Behind the A.I. Robocall That Impersonated Biden: A Democratic Consultant and a Magician - The World News

Behind the A.I. Robocall That Impersonated Biden: A Democratic Consultant and a Magician

A Democratic political consultant confirmed that he was behind robocalls last month that used an artificial-intelligence impersonation of President Biden to urge Democrats not to vote in the New Hampshire primary.

But the consultant, Steven Kramer, and the man he hired to produce the A.I. audio, an itinerant magician and technology and marketing consultant named Paul Carpenter, have different takes on how exactly the call came together.

Now Mr. Kramer may face criminal charges, civil lawsuits or both. He said he had received a subpoena from the Federal Communications Commission and would comply. But he declined to provide a copy, and the F.C.C. would not confirm it. NBC News was first to report the involvement of Mr. Kramer and Mr. Carpenter.

Mr. Kramer, whose company is based in Alabama, described his motives loftily, saying he had wanted to draw attention to the potential abuse of artificial intelligence in campaigns.

“If I hadn’t done this, no one would have done anything,” he said, adding that he had chosen the New Hampshire Democratic primary because it wasn’t competitive and so his calls wouldn’t affect the outcome. The F.C.C. announced shortly after the primary that it would apply existing restrictions on calls using “artificial or prerecorded voices” to voices generated by A.I.

But Mr. Carpenter said Mr. Kramer had told him he wanted the audio in order to assess the technology as a potential service for future clients, after a Thanksgiving party where Mr. Carpenter had made an A.I. impersonation of Senator Lindsey Graham “saying something vulgar” as a joke. The two men were introduced through a mutual acquaintance last year, Mr. Carpenter said.

“He got caught, and now he’s trying to make himself look like a good guy,” Mr. Carpenter said. He added that he’d had no idea Mr. Kramer would actually place the calls.

Mr. Kramer said that Mr. Carpenter’s account was “categorically untrue” and that Mr. Carpenter was “milking his five minutes of fame.”

The impersonation of Mr. Biden’s voice urged New Hampshire residents not to participate in the primary because “your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.” The caller ID was falsified to look as if it was from a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

Mr. Kramer was working for Dean Phillips’s Democratic presidential campaign around the time of the call, but he said the campaign had been unaware of his actions. Mr. Phillips has condemned him.

Mr. Carpenter provided to The New York Times an audio file of the call indicating that it was produced using an A.I. tool from ElevenLabs on Jan. 20 — three days before the New Hampshire primary — and a screenshot of a $149 Venmo payment that day from Bruce Kramer, who Mr. Kramer said was a relative. He also provided a screenshot of a text message on Jan. 22 in which Mr. Kramer shared an article about the calls and said, “Shhhhhhhh.”

John M. Formella, the New Hampshire attorney general, announced this month that he, a consortium of other attorneys general and the F.C.C. had identified Life Corporation, a company based in Texas, as the source of the robocalls. Mr. Kramer confirmed that he had used Life Corporation to place the calls but said the company had not known their contents.

Mr. Phillips’s campaign paid Mr. Kramer’s company, Get Out the Vote, a total of $259,946 in December and January to help get Mr. Phillips’s name on Democratic ballots in New York and Pennsylvania, according to F.E.C. filings.

A representative for Mr. Phillips said neither Mr. Kramer nor the person who had hired him was still working for the campaign.

“The fundamental notion of our campaign is the importance of competition, choice and democracy,” the campaign said in a statement. “We are disgusted to learn that Mr. Kramer is behind this call, and we absolutely denounce his actions.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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