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Former consultant for Dean Phillips’ campaign admits to role in fake Biden robocall

By Alison Main, CNN

(CNN) — A political consultant previously employed by Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips’ presidential campaign acknowledged Sunday that he was behind the robocall that used an AI-generated voice of President Joe Biden to urge New Hampshire voters not to participate in the state’s January 23 primary.

“The evening of Sunday, January 20th, 2 days before the New Hampshire primary, I sent out an automated call to 5,000 most likely to vote Democrats. Using easy to use online technology, an automated version of President Joe Biden voice was created,” Steve Kramer said in a statement, which was first reported by NBC News.

Paul Carpenter, a New Orleans street magician, told CNN in an interview that he was hired by Kramer, who was working for Phillips’ campaign at the time, to create the fake audio. Carpenter provided text messages, Venmo logs and other records to support his account.

Kramer’s statement also said the calls were generated using an artificial intelligence tool called ElevenLabs in “less than a half-hour,” and were distributed by Texas-based company Life Corporation, though he said the company had no knowledge of the robocall’s content.

The robocall, which was sent to more than 20,000 people in late January, marked the first major effort to use AI to imitate a US president in an attempt to suppress votes, and has spurred law enforcement investigations and worries about the future of AI’s impact on American politics.

CNN previously reported that the fake audio was created using ElevenLabs, according to two separate analyses by the security company Pindrop and by digital forensic experts at the University of California, Berkeley.

ElevenLabs previously issued a statement saying that it is “dedicated to preventing the misuse of audio AI tools” and that it takes appropriate action in response to reports by authorities, but it declined to comment on the fake Biden call.

“Immediate action is needed across all regulatory bodies and platforms,” Kramer wrote in his statement, claiming his robocall “changed the political outbound communication industry” and noting recent steps taken to crack down on AI use in politics.

Following the fake calls, the Federal Communications Commission announced it is seeking to make AI-generated robocalls illegal, and House Democrats proposed a bill that would double the potential fines for violations of US robocall rules that involve the use of AI to impersonate people.

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

Phillips’ campaign confirmed to CNN on Friday that Kramer had previously done contract work on ballot access efforts, but said Phillips and the campaign had no knowledge of Kramer’s involvement in the robocall.

The Minnesota Democrat said on social media Sunday he was glad Kramer “fessed-up” to his role in the calls.

Kramer was hired by the Phillips campaign to assist in ballot efforts in New York and Pennsylvania, and the campaign paid his company more than $250,000 in December and January, Federal Election Commission records show. The longtime political consultant worked for Kanye West’s 2020 presidential bid and has a history of producing robocalls.

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

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