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Phillips campaign distances itself from consultant who allegedly commissioned fake Biden robocall

<i>Tom Brenner/Reuters via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips speaks at an event in Columbia
Tom Brenner/Reuters via CNN Newsource
Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips speaks at an event in Columbia

By Alison Main, CNN

(CNN) — The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips is distancing itself from a consultant who allegedly commissioned a robocall that used artificial intelligence to impersonate President Joe Biden during the New Hampshire primary election.

“I’m disgusted that a consultant hired to assist my campaign with ballot access is alleged to have faked a robocall impersonating Joe Biden. While I don’t know the person in question, such behavior is despicable and I trust will be investigated by authorities,” the Minnesota congressman wrote Friday on social media.

As CNN reported Friday, a New Orleans magician said that political consultant Steve Kramer hired him to create an AI-generated robocall imitating Biden’s voice that was sent to New Hampshire voters. The magician, Paul Carpenter, provided text messages, Venmo logs and other records to support his account.

NBC News was first to report on Carpenter’s claims.

In the call, a voice that sounds like the president urges voters not to vote in the January 23 primary and instead to “save” their vote for the November election.

New Hampshire’s attorney general announced earlier this month that the call had been linked to a pair of Texas-based telecommunications companies and said state law enforcement had opened a criminal investigation. Senior US law enforcement officials have also been closely monitoring the incident to determine if a federal crime was committed, a senior US official familiar with the matter told CNN.

Carpenter told CNN he didn’t know how the audio would be used and was “heartbroken” that his work could have convinced people not to cast their ballots.

“I’m a magician and a hypnotist,” he said. “I’m not in the political realm – I just got thrown into this thing.”

Kramer referred a request for comment to Hank Sheinkopf, a New York political consultant. Sheinkopf, who said he was acting as a spokesman for Kramer, told CNN that Kramer will “have a statement to make after the South Carolina primary” on Saturday but declined to comment further before then.

Phillips’s campaign confirmed to CNN earlier Friday that Kramer had worked on efforts to get the Minnesota Democrat on the ballot in New York and Pennsylvania but said that the campaign had no knowledge of his reported involvement with the robocall.

“If it is true that Mr. Kramer had any involvement in the creation of deepfake robocalls, he did so of his own volition which had nothing to do with our campaign,” Phillips campaign spokeswoman Katie Dolan told CNN in a statement on Friday.

“The fundamental notion of our campaign is the importance of competition, choice, and democracy. We are disgusted to learn that Mr. Kramer is allegedly behind this call, and if the allegations are true, we absolutely denounce his actions,” she added. Dolan told CNN that Kramer is no longer working for the campaign.

The Biden campaign said Friday it supports efforts “to hold those who want to disrupt our democratic elections accountable” following the latest revelations about the robocall.

“Our campaign is hyper vigilant about the urgent threat disinformation aimed at suppressing voting and deliberately undermining free and fair elections poses to our democracy,” Biden campaign senior adviser Liz Purdy told CNN in a statement.

Last month, Phillips, who represents a Minneapolis-area district, pushed back on the notion that the robocall might have come from a supporter of his. If that were the case, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “I’d be the first to denounce it.”

“Whoever did that, it’s wrong, and it’s exactly why we need a leader who’s not 80-some years old, who can understand what is coming,” Phillips said, framing himself as more apt to deal with AI regulation than Biden or former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Isabelle Chapman, Majlie de Puy Kamp, Casey Tolan, Kyung Lah and Donald Judd contributed to this report.

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