The O’Keefe Project: Erik Wemple edition

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple has a good column on the FBI raid on James O’Keefe and the seizure of his cell phones in the matter of Ashley Biden’s diary. Wemple’s column is “Did the Justice Department overreach in raiding James O’Keefe’s home?” Wemple’s column provides a careful account of the facts as we have been given to understand them so far (links omitted):

Before the 2020 election, a conservative website called the National File published pages of an item purporting to be Ashley Biden’s diary. The Trump administration’s Justice Department launched an investigation, according to the Times, after a Biden family representative claimed that some of Ashley Biden’s items had been stolen. On Nov. 5, the Times reported that federal agents had searched two locations in an operation that targeted “people who had worked” with Project Veritas in connection with the diary; O’Keefe disclosed that his group had received a grand jury subpoena. Next came the raid at O’Keefe’s home, where agents seized two of his phones.

Project Veritas has told its version of events — first in a Nov. 5 video, then in a Sean Hannity interview with O’Keefe and his lawyer Paul Calli, and finally in a 16-page motion to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres. In 2020, according to the filing, two tipsters contacted Project Veritas and claimed to have obtained items that Ashley Biden had allegedly left behind in a Florida location. The source claimed that it had “lawful possession” of the material, Calli said on “Hannity,” with O’Keefe noting that his group didn’t “know whether it was stolen or not.”

Project Veritas purchased the rights to the diary, according to Calli. Then the organization made efforts to authenticate the diary, O’Keefe said in the video. But it ended up killing the story, “because, in part, we could not determine if the diary was real,” O’Keefe said.

The group tried to return the diary to a lawyer for Ashley Biden, said O’Keefe, but the lawyer declined to verify her ownership. So Project Veritas “arranged” to have the item delivered to law enforcement. “Despite an internal belief that the diary was genuine, Mr. O’Keefe and Project Veritas could not sufficiently satisfy themselves with the diary’s authenticity such that publishing a news story about it would meet ethical standards of journalism,” Project Veritas wrote in its filing.

As to how National File ended up with the diary: It “claimed to have received the diary from a ‘whistleblower’ at another news organization that had chosen not to report on the diary,” alleges the Project Veritas motion. Tom Pappert, National File’s editor in chief, said that his organization heard from an individual he identified as a whistleblower at Project Veritas who was “upset by the … decision to spike a story that had been thoroughly vetted, in the words of our whistleblower.” That vetting, claims Pappert, included a phone call that Project Veritas had taped with Ashley Biden in which she confirmed that the diary was hers. (Attempts to secure comment from a Biden family representative were unsuccessful.)

Shortly before National File published the purported diary pages, it called O’Keefe to ask for the recording of that call, according to Pappert. Asked how O’Keefe responded, Pappert said, “not happily.” Nothing that National File learned from the whistleblower, said Pappert, “could be construed as criminality” on part of Project Veritas.

Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer for Project Veritas, emailed, “Project Veritas does not know how National File obtained the materials it published. Project Veritas does not employ the person National File has publicly suggested is the whistleblower.” (Pappert maintains his organization hasn’t suggested the identity of the whistleblower.)

Wemple then takes up the legal merits of the FBI’s conduct. If O’Keefe and/or Project Veritas themselves engaged in criminal misconduct, he signs off on the FBI’s conduct. He concludes: “The Justice Department had better have some goods.” There is more to be said, but Wemple’s account of the facts is helpful. What is most needed now is a full understanding of the facts, including a review of the search warrant application that remains under seal.

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