Jane Mayer, a staff writer at The New Yorker, has a new book out this month about the political power of America’s wealthiest citizens, including the billionaire libertarian activists Charles and David Koch. Among Dark Money’s myriad revelations—we haven’t finished it yet!—is that one or both of the Koch brothers apparently paid a P.I. firm run by Howard Safir, the police commissioner under New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, to dig up dirt on Mayer to retaliate against her watershed New Yorker profile of the brothers from 2010:
In a squat Washington office building three blocks from the White House, a boiler room operation formed. Beginning in the summer of 2010, as the Kochs were ramping up spending on midterm elections, half a dozen or so highly paid operatives labored secretly in borrowed office space in the back of the lobbying firm run by the former congressman J.C. Watts. Their aim, according to a well-informed source, was to counteract The New Yorker’s story on the Koch brothers by undermining me. “Dirt, dirt, dirt,” is what the source later told me they were digging for in my life. “If they couldn’t find it, they’d create it.”
Reprising the intimidating tactics that critics of Koch Industries had complained of for years, a private investigative firm with powerful political and law enforcement connections was retained. The firm, it appears, was Vigilant Resources International, whose founder and chairman, Howard Safir, had been New York City’s police commissioner under the former mayor Rudy Giuliani.
When reached by Mayer, Safir simply said: “I don’t comment. I don’t confirm or deny it.” Safir’s son and employee, Adam, initially declined to comment, but told The New York Times this week that “I subscribe to The New Yorker and I read it. As far as what we do, we don’t talk about clients, whether we have them or don’t have them. Even answering the question would violate the policy of our business.”
Gawker first noted what appeared to be a coordinated smear campaign against Mayer almost exactly five years ago, in January 2011. And the directive seems to still be in force. It’s otherwise difficult to explain the strange effort to undermine her book’s exposé of the Koch family’s previously secret business ties to Nazi Germany, where Charles and David Koch’s father, Fred Koch, had helped construct an oil refinery (which ended being bombed by the Allied Forces). At least two conservative outlets, The Weekly Standard and Powerline, have recently attempted to argue that Mayer is something of a hypocrite by noting that she is a descendant of Emanuel Lehman, one of the founders of the now-defunct banking firm Lehman Brothers, which did business with Nazi Germany and opposed boycotts of the country.
Both of those outlets discovered this particular family link not by some feat of historical research, as unearthing the Koch family’s contribution to the Nazi war machine likely required, but by locating Mayer’s publicly available New York Times wedding announcement, which describes her as a “great-great-granddaughter of Emanuel Lehman.” This is already a fairly thin reed to stand on—according to Politico, Mayer has never met a blood relative who worked at Lehman Brothers—and basically negates the charge of hypocrisy it’s supposed to support. After all, the entire thrust of Mayer’s recent reporting about Fred Koch’s ties to Nazi Germany is that his descendants have attempted to erase this particular episode from various histories of their family’s immense fortune. (As Mayer writes in her book, the entire episode “has been excised from the official corporate history of Koch Industries.”) The suggestion that Mayer was trying to bury a piece of her own family history by allowing the New York Times to highlight it in her wedding announcement—whose contents are fact-checked by Times staffers—is self-evidently absurd.