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Woman allegedly offered to make false claims about Mueller

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WASHINGTON : The Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing an alleged scheme to pay women to accuse Special Counsel Robert Mueller of sexual harassment in a bid to discredit him, his office said on Tuesday.

The scheme was uncovered after a woman who said she had worked for Mr Mueller years ago told journalists she was offered US$20,000 (S$28,000) to accuse him of sexual misconduct.

"When we learnt last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation," said Mr Mueller's spokesman.

The statement came on the day that a conservative radio and podcast host known for promoting conspiracy theories, Jack Burkman, announced plans to "unveil the first of the sex assault victims of Robert Mueller".

Burkman denied offering payments as part of the alleged scheme, calling the claims "false".

"The left is trying to defend Mueller against sex assault allegations so they attack me in desperation," he said on Twitter.

"The establishment media knows that Mueller may go down over this - they want to deflect attention."

Mr Mueller was tasked last year with investigating allegations that members of US President Donald Trump's team colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 election in his favour.

So far, his investigation has issued 35 indictments and obtained six guilty pleas and one trial conviction.

But Mr Trump and Republicans have labelled his investigation as biased and overextended, with Mr Trump branding it the "illegal Mueller witch hunt".

News of the alleged smear scheme came just a week before midterm elections, in which Mr Mueller's probe casts a cloud over Republicans.

The Hill Reporter website said the scheme surfaced after it and other news outlets were contacted by an anonymous woman saying she had been offered cash to make allegations against Mr Mueller.

She told reporters in an e-mail that a man offered her US$20,000 and would pay off her credit card debt to do so, according to the Hill Reporter.

"I want you to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller, and I want you to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect," she quoted the man as saying.

The woman - who has since been unreachable - said that the person who contacted her claimed to work for Burkman, the Hill Reporter said. - AFP