How an online ‘Lego’ gamer infiltrated the White House press corps

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Four times in recent weeks, members of the White House press corps have relayed questions to press secretary Jen Psaki from someone claiming to be a fellow reporter who was not able to be there in the room due to Covid protocols.

That colleague, who goes by the name Kacey Montagu, doesn’t exist — at least not as an actual reporter.

Since late last year, Montagu has taken on the identity of a White House correspondent extraordinaire with a fictional outlet to boot: White House News, shortened in emails to WHN.

Montagu started two real-life Twitter handles, which are followed by some top White House officials and journalists. Montagu has filed Freedom of Information Act requests and obtained Psaki’s personal financial disclosure form, along with the disclosure of at least one other official, the president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

In communications with confidants, Montagu has posed as a member of White House Correspondents Association, claiming to be a reporter for The Daily Mail, the British tabloid known for its gossipy coverage of celebrities and political figures. Montagu also communicates regularly with top White House reporters and has had several exchanges with White House officials.

But the WHCA has no record of admission and The Daily Mail does not employ anyone by that name. There is no Kacey Montagu, except as a digital impersonation of a White House correspondent.

“I love journalism, and I think the Press Corps is doing a pretty bad job at the moment, so I decided I would ensure some transparency and ask some questions me and some friends wanted the answer to,” Montagu said, when reached by email and asked why they were posing as a White House reporter.

Motivation aside, Montagu’s activity is a remarkable illustration of how the online landscape, along with the age of pandemic-related virtual work, has opened up avenues for the mischievous-minded to infiltrate the top echelons of power. What’s perhaps more remarkable is that he or she did it all without raising a solitary eyebrow … until Thursday.

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Exactly who the real Kacey Montagu is remains entirely unclear. And he or she refused to reveal much personal information.

In conversations with U.S. officials and nonprofit journalism and government-tracking outfits, Montagu said they were an 18-year-old law student from the United Kingdom who was born in the U.S. before moving across the pond with their family at age six. In another conversation, reviewed by POLITICO, Montagu said they were studying political science. He or she said they are not motivated by politics, but were socially liberal and conservative on economic issues.

Acquaintances online suspect much of the biographical information to be untrue. They believe Montagu’s White House moonlighting began as something to boast about in the online global gaming platform called ROBLOX, where users jokingly call themselves “Legos.” Within that platform is a role-playing group called nUSA, where people from across the world engage in a mock U.S. government exercise. At one point, Montagu had adopted the role of Secretary of State but resigned from that job after — as they recalled — ”the [nUSA] President went to war with some U.K. and I thought it was a pretty bad idea!”

There is a level of sophistication to how Montagu operates. The email address associated with the Twitter accounts he or she set up appears to have been used only for establishing those feeds, an associated website, and to contact reporters and the White House. Other than that, there are no digital breadcrumbs.

A Twitter account by the name Kacey ‘Lego’ Montagu has been engaging with a few individuals who have noticed Montagu’s involvement in White House press operations. But there is no identifiable information one can discern from it either. The background image is of the late Prince Philip and the avatar used is of Trisha Paytas, a YouTube star.

Montagu’s play-acting as a White House reporter goes back at least to December, when he or she set up @WHschedule on Twitter. They repeatedly referenced the “schedule” account in emails as a primary duty. In March, they began sending tweets from @WHpoolreport. The accounts are rudimentary repostings of two sources of information reporters regularly consume: the president, first lady, vice president, and second gentleman’s daily schedules and the so-called pool reports, which are real time dispatches from a small group of journalists tasked with following around those principles during the course of the day and reporting back to the rest of the press corps on their movements and utterances.

“I created them as some fun but also to ensure that people know what is going on — they should be able to know what POTUS and V.P. is doing and I think the account following shows people are interested in that,” Montagu told POLITICO.

The accounts got attention from insiders, who quickly came to rely on their speed and efficiency. @WHSchedule had a following of more than 1,300, including several White House correspondents (some working at POLITICO). The new @WHPoolReport account amassed more than 600 in a few weeks' time, including some who work in the administration like Michael LaRosa, press secretary for Jill Biden and Symone Sanders, a senior advisor and chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris.

As the accounts gained traction, Montagu tried his or her hand at proactive White House reporting. Montagu inquired with the WHCA about becoming a pool reporter themself and pressed the Biden administration on applying for a day pass to have a “colleague” cover the White House in person. Montagu said that they never formally requested a pass, though the idea “would have been cool.”

Montagu has emailed questions to press aides for President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris. They have taken to emailing new White House press aides with congratulatory notes after they landed positions, or remarking on how cool their roles must be.

A person who goes by the name “pres. arnie vinick,” formerly the president of the nUSA group of which Montagu was a part, sent POLITICO a screenshot from a Covid-19 response Zoom briefing held by the White House with “Kacey Montagu”’s virtual hand raised to ask a question. Vinick said the shot was sent to him by Montagu, and Montagu confirmed that they have covered Covid-19 press briefings, but were not called on to ask a question.

“Whether that is fake or not I don't know, but I really wasn't surprised she fooled these people,” said “vinick.” “She's been bragging about it for awhile.”

Another longtime member of the community in touch with Montagu said they suspected that they created the account “just for the memes” and never assumed things would progress this far. The member said they decided to speak out, in part, to help expose how stunningly easy it is for someone with no apparent media credentials or journalism experience to burrow into the loftiest ranks of the industry and government.

“She knew one way or another she was gonna get caught; I don’t think she predicted a Politico article being written on her,” the person, who goes by “zarta,” said in an online message. They expressed confidence that, “if this ha[d] went on, she very well could’ve obtained her own day pass and been able to travel to [D.C.] and into the White House.”

In other screengrabs, shared by the nUSA community, Montagu claims they duped WHCA by posing as a real reporter and at one point said they were on their way to being verified by Twitter.

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The bulk of Montagu’s efforts have focused on trying to solicit answers from Psaki during the briefing. Montagu sends regular emails to journalists serving on a given day as the White House pool reporter with questions they wanted posed in the briefing room. In one, obtained and verified by POLITICO, Montagu said that they could not be present “due to social distancing regulations,” before asking that a question be asked on their behalf.

“Recently the White House has had read outs of calls and has the name of the people saying ‘Senior Administration official’ so why isn’t the White House releasing the names of people in the calls, making these comments so that they can be held accountable to the American people?”

The signature on the email was “WH Correspondent” with the outlet listed as WHN.

The reporter for that day declined to ask Montagu’s question, as did several others who received emails from the account, including at least two staffers at POLITICO. But Montagu, whose email signatures at other points called them a “political correspondent” at the fake acronym WHSG, was successful in planting questions with reporters at The Plain Dealer and CQ Roll Call, among others, asking about everything from Covid-19 travel bans, to coming ambassadorships, to Biden’s reaction to Microsoft being hacked.

POLITICO verified the questions through screenshots of the emails and conversations with journalists, press outfits, online associates of Montagu and administration officials.

The White House declined to comment.

In some cases, Montagu followed up with polite emails to the reporters thanking them for asking Psaki questions on their behalf. In at least one instance, a White House official was connected with Montagu to circle back with more information when they had it. That kind of swift attention would not be paid to someone outside the media trying to get information from the White House.

It also would have been exceedingly unlikely to happen in the pre-Covid days where all 49 briefing room seats were occupied rather than the 14 that are filled now so reporters can be socially distant in the small room. During the pandemic, it’s become the norm for the pool reporter to ask a question or two for a press corps colleague as a courtesy.

Some White House reporters approached by Montagu via email said the inquiries typically came after they’d sent their first pool report that day. That report likely tipped off Montagu as to who would be in the briefing room. Some of the reporters on pool duty said they did some quick due diligence before deciding on whether to ask the proposed question and came across a since deactivated LinkedIn profile for Montagu that lists the job as “Chief Political Correspondent” at WHS and a location of Washington, D.C. The profile picture associated with the account was U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson eating an ice cream cone.

On Thursday, Chris Johnson, of Washington Blade, was the pool reporter and when his turn to ask Psaki a question came, he posed one on behalf of an absent colleague. Like the others, it turned out to be Montagu — a fact exposed after Mediate began inquiring into the origins of the query, which was about Biden’s relationship with former President Barack Obama and whether the White House would bring back presidential portrait unveiling.

Soon, other dominos were falling. A Google-hosted profile page for Montagu was taken down. Monagu’s old Linkedin profile disappeared, too.

By Friday, the more popular of the accounts Montagu set up on Twitter, @WHschedule, was suspended for mimicking the White House’s color scheme and not disclosing that it had no affiliation with the U.S. government.

A Twitter spokesperson told POLITICO that it violated the company’s impersonation policy.

“I enjoy allowing transparency from the administration — sadly WHSchedule has been suspended,” Montagu said in their email, “no clue why!”

Tina Nguyen and Mark Scott contributed to this report.

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