Reached by text message, Braddock refused to say whether he made any threats about Luna to the person who recorded him, Erin Olszewski.
Asked repeatedly via text if he mentioned Russian-Ukrainian hit squads, Braddock wouldn’t give a yes or no answer, saying he had not heard the recording and that it’s “allegedly me … there is no proof of that.” He also suggested the recording “may even be altered and edited.”
“This is a dirty political tactic that has caused a lot of people a lot of stress and is completely unnecessary,” he said.
Olszewski denied editing or altering the recording. She said she made it because she was concerned about Braddock’s “unhinged” dislike of Luna that he had previously expressed. After she made the recording just after midnight last Wednesday, she promptly turned it over to St. Petersburg, Fla., police and gave a heads-up to her friend Luna, who filed a petition for an injunction against Braddock. Luna and Olszewski each received a temporary restraining order against him last week. Braddock filed to run Monday.
In the recording, Braddock early in the call brought up the alleged assassins. He also made rambling statements about getting financial help from fellow Freemasons or by somehow importing millions of dollars from Malta and Gibraltar.
“I have access to a hit squad, too, Ukrainians and Russians,” he said about three minutes into the call, adding “don’t get caught out in public supporting Luna. … Luna’s gonna go down and I hope it’s by herself.”
Braddock went on to explain that he didn’t think Luna could win in the general election. Luna, an Air Force veteran and former model who went on to become a conservative activist, won a crowded GOP primary in the state’s 13th Congressional District last year but lost the general election to Crist.
It’s unclear exactly why Braddock has such dislike toward Luna. The two do not appear to have any previous connection to one another, and Braddock is a lower-tier candidate in an increasingly crowded race for Crist’s seat. Already, two state lawmakers and a former Obama administration official have entered the race, with others expected to jump in.
The threats, claims of assassins and political backstabbing put an only-in-Florida stamp on what was already shaping up to be a wild midterm of congressional races. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz in the Panhandle is still batting back accusations in an ongoing federal sex trafficking probe.
Democratic Rep. Val Demings is leaving her Orlando seat to run for Senate, causing a mad scramble to replace her. And the state is getting an additional congressional seat that is certain to lead to another crush of candidates after redistricting before next year’s elections.
Olszewski, who initiated and recorded the call just after midnight on June 9, said she phoned Braddock at his insistence because he kept trying to get her to appear on a health care panel for an event he was organizing.
Olszewski, a nurse by training, became a conservative figure last year after penning a book called “Undercover Epicenter Nurse: How Fraud, Negligence, and Greed Led to Unnecessary Deaths at Elmhurst Hospital,” which some in the health care industry have called disinformation.
After having a few conversations with Braddock, however, Olszewski said she became concerned that he wanted to use her to advance his candidacy and that he left her “threatening” messages about Luna that sounded “unhinged.”
With such a closely divided Congress currently in Democratic control, Braddock said on the recorded call that the “pivotal” St. Petersburg-based district will take on outsized importance in 2022 to keep America from devolving into a “communist-socialist s—hole.” When Olszewski asked him why he had Russians at the ready, Braddock indicated they were to stop Luna.
“My polling people are going to charge me $20,000 to do a poll right before the primary. And if the poll says Luna’s gonna win, she’s gonna be gone. She’s gonna disappear,” Braddock said in the recorded call, pledging Olszewski to secrecy. “For the good of our country, we have to sacrifice the few. … For the better or the good of the majority of the people, we’ve got to sacrifice the few.”
Later in the call, Olszewski asked what would happen if “Luna is gonna win” and Braddock assured her that wouldn’t happen.
“She’s gonna be gone. Period. That’s the end of the discussion. Luna is not an issue,” he said.
Olszewski pushed him, asking “how do we make her go, though? I just don’t understand that.”
“I call up my Russian and Ukrainian hit squad, and within 24 hours, they’re sending me pictures of her disappearing,” he replied. “No, I’m not joking. Like, this is beyond my control this point.”
Asked if the killers were snipers, Braddock described them as, “Russian mafia. Close-battle combat, TEC-9s, MAC-10s, silencers kind of thing. No snipers. Up close and personal. So they know that the target has gone.”
Olszewski said that threats like the ones Braddock made “you can’t take lightly. Normal people don’t say these things.”
Olszewski called Braddock on one smartphone and recorded video of the call with another, occasionally displaying his name and number on the video to show it was him on the call. POLITICO also obtained a separate recording, a voicemail message, Braddock left with a consultant in which his phone number was identical and voice seemed to match the information Olszewski shot in her video.
In Florida, it’s a third-degree felony to record another person without their knowledge. But Olszewski said that St. Petersburg police told her she had nothing to worry about in recording the conversation and turning it over to authorities. A spokesperson for the St. Petersburg police declined to comment on the recording or whether it was legally recorded.
Braddock, though, indicated he was ready to sue Olszewski.
“The folks in possession of whatever recording they think they have of myself or someone else (which may even be altered and edited) will be facing civil damages suit(s) when the paperwork is file [sic] with the county and felony charges after I file with the local police department,” Braddock said in his text message to POLITICO. “I strongly advise not to get involved because the civil suits will continue to be filed until people stop sharing them because whomever is on the recording did not consent to be recorded in my humble opinion.”
In her filing for an injunction, Luna also mentioned how Braddock claimed in the call with Olszewski that two other potential Republican candidates in the race, Amanda Makki and Matt Tito, had formed an alliance with him to stop Luna. Braddock briefly posted the petition for the injunction on his Facebook page Friday but then took them down.
Both Makki and Tito denied the claims of an alliance with Braddock and each of them criticized Luna for mentioning their names in the injunction she filed against Braddock.
“The fact she dragged me through the mud, after not seeing or talking to me after 11 months, it really calls into question her judgment,” said Makki, who ran unsuccessfully in the GOP primary against Luna in 2020, despite earning the endorsement of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Tito, also, was displeased with the fact that he was named in the injunction.
“This is a total political hit job. I wasn’t served. I’m not in legal trouble,” he said. “Luna doesn’t want me to get in the Republican race because she knows I’ll beat her. I’m a better candidate. She’s trying to wipe me out of the race, trying to embarrass me, intimidate me, smear my name so she has a wider path to the nomination.”
In the call, Braddock mentioned that he offered Tito a job on his campaign to keep him on the sidelines, but Tito said he had no intention to work for Braddock.
James Blair, a spokesperson for Luna, said she wouldn’t comment on the ongoing investigation. But he suggested Makki had “sour grapes” for losing the primary last year to Luna. And he faulted Tito because he “immediately blamed the woman” by accusing Luna of a political hit job.
“The content of the protective order filed is based upon Mr. Braddock’s own threats, actions, and statements,” Blair said. “I understand that Mr. Braddock is the one who stated he is working with Mr. Tito and Ms. Makki, so perhaps they should take it up with him instead of attacking the person he said he was going to kill if that’s what it took to keep her from winning.”
In her petition for the restraining order, Luna made it clear that she took Braddock’s threats seriously.
“I do not feel safe and am currently in fear for my life,” Luna wrote, according to a copy of it.
Olszewski, too, said Braddock sounded dangerous. At one point, Braddock even said he was scared himself.
“Don’t be on the f—ing wrong side of supporting Luna because if you’re near her when the time comes, I just don’t want that to happen to you because you’ve got kids,” Braddock said on the call. “So don’t be associated with Luna under any circumstances. Please. And do not repeat this anybody because both of us will be in jeopardy if you do. I’m not just blowing smoke here. I’m f—ing being dead ass serious and it scares the s— out of me, too.”