The O’Keefe Project: The Times strikes again

We have followed the story of the FBI raid on James O’Keefe and associates of Project Veritas in a series of posts under the heading “The O’Keefe Project.” The most recent of these posts is dated November 24. The FBI conducted these raids in the style to which we became accustomed in the case of Roger Stone and appears to have followed them up with leaks to its friends at the New York Times.

The New York Times has now published its fifth story on the investigation of O’Keefe et al. in connection with their possession of the diary of Ashley Biden. The otherwise questionable authenticity of the diary can be inferred from the involvement of the FBI. It has somehow become a federal case in the Age of Biden.

Today’s story is “How Ashley Biden’s Diary Made Its Way to Project Veritas.” Subhead: “New details shed light on the federal investigation into the conservative group’s acquisition last year of a journal kept by the president’s daughter.”

The Times was immediately tipped to the raids conducted by the FBI on O’Keefe et al. The Times reported on the raids in stories here (November 5, correction appended) and here (November 6, updated November 12). The Times quoted witnesses to the raids. It leaves unmentioned any tips to the Times from the FBI or higher-ups in the world of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York or the Biden Department of Justice.

Reporting on the investigation of Project Veritas in the matter of Ashley Biden’s diary, the Times seems to have a pipeline to the FBI and national security establishment. Adam Goldman reports on the FBI for Times and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for national reporting on Russia’s meddling in the presidential election. Michael Schmidt is a Washington correspondent for The Times who covers national security and federal investigations. He was also part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for coverage of President Donald Trump and his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.

Here is the heart of today’s story:

Federal prosecutors and F.B.I. agents are investigating whether there was a criminal conspiracy among a handful of individuals to steal and publish the diary. Those being scrutinized include current and former operatives for the conservative group Project Veritas; a donor Mr. Trump appointed to a political position in the final days of his administration; a man who once pleaded guilty in a money laundering scheme; and a financially struggling mother of two, according to people familiar with federal grand jury subpoenas and a search warrant who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Extensive interviews with people involved in or briefed on the investigation and a review of court filings, police records and other material help flesh out elements of a tale that is testing the line between investigative journalism and political dirty tricks.

As always, the Times seeks to relegate Project Veritas to a zone beyond the protection of the First Amendment:

The group — which purchased the diary but ultimately did not publish it and denies any wrongdoing — has assailed the investigation. And it has been making a case in court and to Congress that, despite its use of undercover stings and other deceptive tactics, it is practicing a form of journalism that deserves the same legal and constitutional protections afforded news organizations.

As a publisher, Project Veritas is entitled to exactly as much constitutional protection as the New York Times. The implication to the contrary suggests to me that the Times and its friends in the law enforcement/national security establishment are pursuing another agenda here.

The Times presented “a list of specific questions related to the investigation” to Project Veritas. The Times reports that Project Veritas attorney Paul Calli “responded with a statement from Mr. O’Keefe criticizing The New York Times.” The Times does not afford us a glimpse of their questions or Calli’s statement.

By implication today’s story traces the path of the diary from a series of figures to Project Veritas. By implication the Times suggests that Project Veritas obtained the diary illegally and concocted a story to cover its misconduct:

Mr. O’Keefe’s lawyers said in a court filing last month that Project Veritas arranged for Ms. Biden’s items to be delivered in early November to the police in Florida, not far from the house where she had left them. As the investigation came to light last month, Mr. O’Keefe said in a statement that “Project Veritas gave the diary to law enforcement to ensure it could be returned to its rightful owner.”

But a Delray Beach Police Department report and an officer’s body camera video footage tell a somewhat different story. On the morning of Sunday, Nov. 8 — 24 hours after Mr. Biden had been declared the winner of the election — a lawyer named Adam Leo Bantner II arrived at the police station with a blue duffel bag and another bag, according to the police report and the footage. Mr. Bantner declined to reveal the identity of his client to the police.

Project Veritas has said in court filings that it was assured by the people who sold Ms. Biden’s items to the group that they were abandoned rather than stolen. But the police report said that Mr. Bantner’s client had told him that the property was “possibly stolen” and “he got it from an unknown person at a hotel.”

The video footage, which appears to be a partial account of the encounter, records Mr. Bantner describing the bags as “crap.” The officer can be heard telling Mr. Bantner that he is going to throw the bags in the garbage because the officer did not have any “information” or “proof of evidence.”

“Like I said, I’m fine with it,” Mr. Bantner replied.

But the police did examine the contents of the bag and quickly determined that they belonged to Ms. Biden. The report said the police contacted both the Secret Service and the F.B.I., which later collected the items.

The whole story — including the work of the Times, such as today’s story — warrants our continued attention.

UPDATE: Following up with PV attorney Paul Calli, I obtained the unquoted statement given to the and a statement by Calli commenting on the Times story. Both are posted here.

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