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Project Veritas

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Project Veritas
Project Veritas logo.png
Logo
FormationJune 2010; 10 years ago (June 2010)[1]
FounderJames O'Keefe
TypeNGO
Legal status501(c)(3)
PurposeDisinformation[14]
Location
Methods
FundingDonors Trust
Websitewww.projectveritas.com

Project Veritas is an American far-right[38] activist group founded by James O'Keefe in 2010.[42] The group produces deceptively edited videos[24] of its undercover operations,[16] which use secret recordings[17] in an effort to discredit mainstream media organizations and progressive groups.[50] Project Veritas uses entrapment[23] to generate bad publicity for its targets,[2] and has propagated disinformation[14] and conspiracy theories[57] in its videos and operations.

Targets of Project Veritas include Planned Parenthood, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), NPR, CNN, and The Washington Post. In 2009, Project Veritas associates published misleading[2] videos that depicted ACORN employees providing advice on concealing illegal activity, causing ACORN to shut down after losing funding;[5] ACORN was cleared of wrongdoing by the Attorney General of California in 2010,[2] and the associates paid a total of $150,000 in settlements to an ACORN employee who sued for defamation.[2] NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned in 2013 after Project Veritas released a deceptively[2][5] edited video portraying another NPR executive making controversial comments about the Tea Party movement and NPR's federal funding.[58] Project Veritas unsuccessfully attempted to mislead The Washington Post into publishing false information about the Roy Moore sexual misconduct allegations in 2017;[4][50] the Post won a Pulitzer Prize after uncovering the operation.[18][59]

As a non-governmental organization, Project Veritas is financed by conservative fund Donors Trust[2] (which provided over $6.6 million from 2011 to 2019)[50][60][61] and other supporters including the Donald J. Trump Foundation.[6] In 2020, The New York Times published an exposé detailing Project Veritas' use of spies recruited by Erik Prince, to infiltrate "Democratic congressional campaigns, labor organizations and other groups considered hostile to the Trump agenda". The Times piece notes O'Keefe's and Prince's close links to the Trump administration, and details contributions such as a $1 million transfer of funds from an undisclosed source to support their work. The findings were based in part on discovery documents in a case brought by the American Federation of Teachers, Michigan, which had been infiltrated by Project Veritas.[62]

History

Project Veritas was founded in June 2010 by James O'Keefe.[1][63]

During the 2016 campaign, the organization falsely claimed to have shown that the Hillary Clinton campaign accepted illegal donations from foreign sources.[64] Two Project Veritas members were sued for defamation by an employee of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) who was wrongfully depicted as a "willing participant in an underage sex-trafficking scheme". The suit resulted in two settlements: O'Keefe issued a statement of regret and paid the ACORN employee $100,000 in 2013; the other Project Veritas member paid the employee an additional $50,000 in 2012.[70]

In 2017, Project Veritas was caught in a failed attempt to trick The Washington Post into posting a fabricated story about the Roy Moore sexual misconduct allegations.[39][40][71][72] Rather than uncritically publish a story that accused Republican candidate Moore of impregnating a teenager, The Washington Post critically examined the story that they were presented with, checked the source, assessed her credibility and ultimately found that there was no merit to her claims, and that instead Project Veritas were trying to dupe The Washington Post.[4]

O'Keefe had been barred from fundraising for Project Veritas in Florida, Maine, Mississippi, Utah, and Wisconsin, partly because of his federal criminal record for entering a federal building under fraudulent pretenses and partly because Project Veritas has repeatedly failed to properly disclose O'Keefe's criminal convictions in applications for nonprofit status. Similar disclosure issues for the group's registration also exist in New Mexico, New York, and North Carolina.[73][74][75]

On February 11, 2021, the Twitter account for Project Veritas was "permanently suspended for repeated violations of Twitter's private information policy." At the same time, O'Keefe's personal account was temporarily locked for violating the policy pending the deletion of a tweet.[76][77] Twitter permanently suspended O'Keefe's personal account on April 15 for violating the website's policy on "platform manipulation and spam", which prohibits the use of fake accounts to "artificially amplify or disrupt conversations". O'Keefe denied that he used fake accounts on Twitter and stated that he intends to sue Twitter in response.[78][79]

Content

Planned Parenthood recordings (2008)

In 2006, O'Keefe met Lila Rose, the founder of an anti-abortion group on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus.[80] They secretly recorded encounters in Planned Parenthood clinics in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, in which Rose posed as a 15-year-old girl impregnated by a 23-year-old male. Rose and O'Keefe made two videos incorporating heavily edited[6] versions of the recordings and released them on YouTube. One of the videos depicted a clinic worker suggesting that Rose "figure out a birth date that works" to avoid a police report for statutory rape, which the clinic would have needed to file under California law;[81][82] the video omitted the portions of the full conversation in which a Planned Parenthood employee asked Rose to consult her mother about the pregnancy and another employee told Rose, "We have to follow the laws". Rose took down the videos after Planned Parenthood sent her a cease and desist letter in May 2007 asserting that the videos violated California's voice recording laws, which required consent from all recorded parties.[81][83]

ACORN videos (2009)

The organization produced deceptively edited videos targeting the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a 40-year-old advocacy organization for individuals of low and moderate income.[84][85][86]

In September 2009, O'Keefe and his associate, Hannah Giles, published edited hidden camera recordings in which Giles posed as a prostitute and O'Keefe as her boyfriend, a law student, in an attempt to elicit damaging responses from employees of ACORN.[87] ACORN mostly registered people from the Latino and African American communities.[88]

The videos were recorded during the summer of 2009[89] and appeared to show low-level ACORN employees in six cities providing advice to Giles and O'Keefe on how to avoid detection by authorities of tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution.[90] He framed the undercover recordings with a preface of him dressed in a "pimp" outfit, which he also wore in TV media interviews. This gave viewers, including the media, the impression that he had dressed that way when speaking to ACORN workers. However, he actually entered the ACORN offices in conservative street clothes (the sleeve of his dress shirt is visible on camera).[91] Furthermore, the ACORN employees involved reported his activities to the San Diego Police Department after he left.[2]:9 O'Keefe selectively edited and manipulated his recordings of ACORN employees, as well as distorted the chronologies. Several journalists and media outlets have expressed regret for not properly scrutinizing and vetting his work.[92][93]

Reception and lawsuit

After the videos were released through the fall of 2009, Congress voted to freeze federal funding to ACORN.[94] The Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) terminated their contract relationships with ACORN.[95] By December 2009, an external investigation of ACORN was published which cleared the organization of any illegality, while commenting that its poor management practices contributed to unprofessional actions by some low-level employees.[96][97][98][99] In March 2010, ACORN announced it would dissolve due to loss of funding from government and especially private sources.[100]

On March 1, 2010, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes found that there was no criminal wrongdoing by the ACORN staff in New York.[101] In late March 2010, Clark Hoyt, then public editor for The New York Times, reviewed the videos, full transcripts and full audio. Hoyt wrote "The videos were heavily edited. The sequence of some conversations was changed. Some workers seemed concerned for Giles, one advising her to get legal help. In two cities, ACORN workers called the police. But the most damning words match the transcripts and the audio, and do not seem out of context."[102]

The California Attorney General's Office granted O'Keefe and Giles limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for providing the full, unedited videotapes related to ACORN offices in California.[87] The AG's Report was released on April 1, 2010, concluding that the videos from ACORN offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Bernardino had been "severely edited."[87] The report found there was no evidence of criminal conduct on the part of ACORN employees nor any evidence that any employee intended to aid or abet criminal conduct. It found that three employees had tried to deflect the couple's plans, told them ACORN could not offer them help on the grounds they wanted, and otherwise dealt with them appropriately. Such context was not reflected in O'Keefe's edited tapes. The AG's Report noted that "O'Keefe stated that he was out to make a point and to damage ACORN and therefore did not act as a journalist objectively reporting a story". It found no evidence of intent by the employees to aid the couple. The report also noted "a serious and glaring deficit in management, governance and accountability within the ACORN organization" and said its conduct "suggests an organizational ethos at odds with the norms of American society. Empowering and serving low-and moderate-income families cannot be squared with counseling and encouraging illegal activities."[87]

The AG's report confirmed that ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera, shown in O'Keefe's video as apparently aiding a human smuggling proposal, had immediately reported his encounter with the couple to an American police detective at the time to thwart their plan. Following the AG's report, that employee, who had been fired by ACORN after the video's release, sued O'Keefe and Giles in 2010. He alleged invasion of privacy and cited a California law that prohibits recordings without consent of all parties involved.[103]

On the basis of the edited videotape which O'Keefe released, Vera appeared to be a willing participant in helping with O'Keefe's plan to smuggle young women into the United States illegally. However, authorities confirmed that Vera immediately contacted them about O'Keefe and that he had also encouraged O'Keefe to share as much information as possible about his scheme and gather further evidence of O'Keefe's purported illegal activities, which could then be used by prosecutors to bring charges against O'Keefe for attempted human trafficking. Due to O'Keefe's release of the dubiously edited video, intentionally designed to "prove" that ACORN employees were ready and willing to engage in illicit activities, Vera lost his job and was falsely portrayed as being engaged in human trafficking.[67]

O'Keefe moved for summary judgment in his favor, arguing that the plaintiff had no reasonable expectation that the conversation would be private. In August 2012, the federal judge hearing the case denied O'Keefe's motion for summary judgment. The judge ruled that O'Keefe had "misled plaintiff to believe that the conversation would remain confidential by posing as a client seeking services from ACORN and asking whether their conversation was confidential."[104] On March 5, 2013, O'Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to former California ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera, and acknowledged in the settlement that at the time he published his video he was unaware that Vera had notified the police about the incident. As part of the settlement, O'Keefe apologized for his actions, expressing regret for "any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family."[105][66][106] Giles paid Vera $50,000 in a separate settlement in the summer of 2012.[65]

On June 14, 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published its report finding no evidence that ACORN, or any of its related organizations, had mishandled any of the $40 million in federal money which they had received in recent years.[107][108]

New Jersey Teachers' Union video (2010)

Starting October 25, 2010, O'Keefe posted a series of videos on the Internet entitled Teachers Unions Gone Wild. At the time, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) was in negotiations with Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, over teacher pay benefits and tenure.[109] O'Keefe obtained one video from recordings made by "citizen journalists", whom he recruited to attend the NJEA's leadership conference. They secretly recorded meetings and conversations with teacher participants.[109] It featured teachers discussing the difficulty of firing a tenured teacher.

A second video featured a staged phone conversation by O'Keefe with Lawrence E. Everett, assistant superintendent of the Passaic, New Jersey city schools, in which Everett refused to commit to firing a teacher based upon the purported claim by a parent that the teacher had used the "n-word" with his child.[109][110] The third video (October 26, 2010) featured audio of a voice, identified as NJEA Associate Director Wayne Dibofsky, who alleged voter fraud during the 1997 Jersey City mayoral election.[109] The voice of Robert Byrne, Jersey City municipal clerk, was recorded on the same video; he noted that the election was monitored by lawyers for both candidates.[109]

New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie stated at the time that nothing on the videos surprised him.[111] NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said the union and its attorneys were discussing their options regarding possible legal action, although no action was ever taken. Wollmer called the videos "a calculated attack on this organization and its members", and described O'Keefe as "flat-out sleazy".[111]

Medicaid videos (2011)

In the summer of 2011, O'Keefe released videos in which an actor working for Project Veritas attempted to apply for benefits while hinting that he was a drug smuggler; the actor failed to obtain benefits.[112] In Maine, Governor Paul LePage concluded upon further examination of the videos that there was no fraud or intent to commit fraud.[112][113][114]

The videos received less media attention than earlier O'Keefe efforts. Generally, the state officials and representatives acknowledged potential problems but also took a measured tone in response, to allow time to fully investigate and evaluate the incidents. After viewing the video, Maine governor Paul LePage thanked the individual who took the video and noted: "The video in its entirety does not show a person willfully helping someone de-fraud the welfare system. It does show a need for further job knowledge and continuous and improved staff training." He also stated that "we would be six months further along in fixing the problem" if he had received the video when it was filmed. LePage directed his agency director to work on correcting the problem.[114]

Ohio media initially reported that "a Franklin County Jobs and Family Service worker was placed on administrative leave and at least one other person was out of work" as a result of the video's release.[115] Ben Johnson of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services noted that benefits were never granted in the case, and that the made-up story would have been caught if the application process had proceeded. He said his office would use the video to strengthen staff training. Mike DeWine, Attorney General of Ohio, described the Ohio video as "outrageous" and intended to instruct his state's Medicaid fraud unit to look into the incident.[115][116] The director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Michael Colbert, notified county leaders of a mandatory retraining, "to ensure they can identify people trying to defraud the government".[117] Upon investigation by state officials, the Medicaid worker who coached O'Keefe's operative seeking Medicaid for his father and claimed to own a yacht as well as a helipad, on how to hide their (also claimed) ownership of an $800,000 automobile had been placed on paid administrative leave.[113][118] A spokesman for Virginia governor Bob McDonnell said that he had asked state police to review the video and take whatever actions are appropriate.[119][120]

In Charleston, South Carolina, the director of that state's Department of Health and Human Services, Anthony Kreck, said the video filmed in his state "raises concerns about how well trained and supported our staff are to handle outrageous situations." He also expressed concern for the safety of the state employee with the figure ["Sean Murphy"] in the video "who could be interpreted as intimidating" and questioned why security wasn't called.[120]

NPR video (2011)

On March 8, 2011, shortly before the US Congress was to vote on funding for National Public Radio (NPR), O'Keefe released a video of a discussion with Ronald Schiller, NPR's senior vice president for fundraising, and associate Betsy Liley. The content was secretly recorded by O'Keefe's partners, Simon Templar (a pseudonym)[121] and Shaughn Adeleye, who pretended to be Muslim individuals named Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik.[122][123]

In the video, the NPR executives were shown meeting with Kasaam and Malik, who styled themselves as representatives of a self-described Muslim charity called the "Muslim Education Action Center" that wished to donate money to NPR.[124] At the meeting, the representatives claimed their charity was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. NPR responded by stating that Schiller's remarks were presented out of sequence and that he said that he would speak personally, and not for NPR. Schiller said some highly placed Republicans believed the Republican Party had been hijacked by a radical group (the Tea Party) that they characterized as "Islamophobic" and "seriously racist, racist people", and while Schiller did not disagree, according to NPR, O'Keefe's editing made it appear those were Schiller's opinions. Schiller then says that unlike establishment Republicans, the growing Tea Party movement in the party "is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian — I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move. [sic]"[125][126]

Later in the edited video, Schiller seems to say he believes NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding", explaining that removal of federal funding would allow NPR more independence and remove the widely held misconception that NPR is significantly funded by the public. But on the raw tape, Schiller also said that withdrawing federal funding would cause local stations to go under and that NPR is doing "everything we can" to keep it.[127]

In a statement released before analysis of the longer raw video, NPR said, "The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept. We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for."[128] After reviewing the unedited video, Scott Baker, editor-in-chief of TheBlaze, said the NPR executives "seem to be fairly balanced people."[125]

Journalists Ben Smith, James Poniewozik, and Dave Weigel have expressed regret for giving O'Keefe's NPR videos wider circulation without scrutinizing them for themselves.[92]

Reception

Comparison of the raw video with the released one revealed editing that was characterized as "selective" and "deceptive" by Michael Gerson, opinion writer in The Washington Post, who wrote, "O'Keefe did not merely leave a false impression; he manufactured an elaborate, alluring lie."[129] Time magazine wrote that the video "transposed remarks from a different part of the meeting", was "manipulative" and "a partisan hit-job."[58]

The raw video shows Schiller told the two men "that donors cannot expect to influence news coverage." On the longer tape, he says, "There is such a big firewall between funding and reporting: Reporters will not be swayed in any way, shape or form."[92] The broadcast journalist Al Tompkins, who now teaches at the Poynter Institute, noted that Ron Schiller was a fundraiser, not an official affecting the newsroom. He commented on the raw tape: "The message that he said most often—I counted six times: He told these two people that he had never met before that you cannot buy coverage", Tompkins said. "He says it over and over and over again.[92]

On March 17, Martha T. Moore of USA Today reported: "According to The Blaze analysis, Ron Schiller's most inflammatory remarks, that Tea Party members are 'seriously racist', were made as he was recounting the views of Republicans he has spoken with—although he does not appear to disagree. It also shows Schiller appearing to laugh about the potential spread of Islamic sharia law, when the longer version shows he laughed in reaction to something completely different."[127]

Two days later, O'Keefe released a video in which Betsy Liley, senior director of institutional giving at NPR, appeared to have checked with senior management and said MEAC was cleared to make donations anonymously and NPR could help shield donations from government audits, but added that, in order to proceed, additional background information would be required, including an IRS Form 990.[130] Liley advised the caller that NPR executives would investigate them before accepting any large donation, examining tax records and checking out other organizations that have received donations from them.[130] Liley raises the possibility of NPR's turning down substantial gifts and stresses the "firewall" between the revenue-generating part of NPR and its news operation.[130] NPR put Liley on administrative leave. In emails released following the publication of the Liley video, NPR confirmed that the official had consulted appropriately with top management and notified the purported donors of problems with their desired method of donation.[131]

Ronald Schiller, who had already submitted his resignation back in January so that he could join the Aspen Institute, moved up his resignation after the video release when NPR put him on administrative leave. CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ronald Schiller) announced she was resigning, effective immediately.[132][133][134][135][136][137]

New Hampshire primary video (2012)

In January 2012, O'Keefe released a video of associates obtaining a number of ballots for the New Hampshire primary by using the names of recently deceased voters. He stated that the video showed "the integrity of the elections process is severely comprised [sic]."[138] His team culled names from published obituaries, which were checked against public voter roll information. O'Keefe said his team broke no laws, as they did not pretend to be the deceased persons when they asked for the ballots, and they did not cast votes after receiving ballots. One of his associates' attempts was caught by a voting supervisor at the polling station who recognized that the name he gave was of a deceased individual; the associate in question left before police arrived.[139]

Reception

Sarah Parnass of ABC News reported that the video "either exposes why voting laws are too lax or comes close to itself being voter fraud (or both) ..."[138] One media account referred to it as a stunt.[140] New Hampshire Governor John Lynch said, "I think it is outrageous that we have out-of-staters coming into New Hampshire, coming into our polling places and misrepresenting themselves to the election officials, and I hope that they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, if in fact they're found guilty of some criminal act."[141] The New Hampshire Attorney General and the US Attorney's Office announced investigations into the video.[141]

New Hampshire Associate Attorney General Richard Head said he would investigate the possible weaknesses in the voting system,[142] but noted the state did not have a history of known fraud related to person[s] seeking ballot[s] in the name of a dead person or persons.[138] Head announced he would investigate the possibility that the filmmakers committed crimes while producing the videos.[138]

Hamline University law professor David Schultz said, "If they [O'Keefe's group] were intentionally going in and trying to fraudulently obtain a ballot, they violated the law", referring to Title 42, which prohibits procuring ballots fraudulently.[140] The New Hampshire Attorney General's office later dropped its investigation of O'Keefe for potential voter fraud in 2013.[143]

Patrick Moran (2012)

On October 24, 2012, a video was released showing Patrick Moran, son of then-U.S. Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA), and a field director with his father's campaign, discussing a plan to cast fraudulent ballots, which was proposed to him by someone who posed as a fervent supporter of the campaign.[144] The person he was speaking with was a conservative activist with O'Keefe's Project Veritas, and was secretly recording the conversation.[145] Patrick Moran resigned from the campaign, saying he did not want to be a distraction during the election, stating:

[A]t no point have I, or will I ever endorse any sort of illegal or unethical behavior. At no point did I take this person seriously. He struck me as being unstable and joking, and for only that reason did I humor him. In hindsight, I should have immediately walked away, making it clear that there is no place in the electoral process for even the suggestion of illegal behavior, joking or not.[145]

The Arlington County Police Department was made aware of the video and opened a criminal investigation into "every component" of the matter.[146]

On January 31, 2013, Arlington County announced that the investigation, by its police department in collaboration with the Offices of the Virginia Attorney General and the Arlington County Commonwealth's Attorney, had concluded and that no charges would be brought. The County stated: "Patrick Moran and the Jim Moran for Congress campaign provided full cooperation throughout the investigation. Despite repeated attempts to involve the party responsible for producing the video, they failed to provide any assistance."[147]

Americans United for Change videos (2016)

On October 18, 2016, O'Keefe released a series of videos on Project Veritas' YouTube channel titled "Rigging the Election" that apparently showed former national field director Scott Foval of Americans United for Change discussing planting agitators, including "mentally ill people that we pay to do shit" in front of Donald Trump rallies to ask questions near reporters, a common practice known as "bird dogging".[148][149] Foval also said "We've been bussing people in to deal with you fuckin' assholes for fifty years and we're not going to stop now." Foval later said he was talking about busing people to rallies.[150] Foval went on to discuss the legal consequences of voter fraud: "Let's just say, in theory, if a major investigation came up of major vote fraud that way, how would they prove it? ... If there's a bus involved, that changes the dynamic ... You can prove conspiracy if there's a bus, but if there are cars, it is much harder to prove."[148] The accuracy of the videos has been questioned for possibly omitting context, and the unedited raw footage has not been made available.[151][152][153][154]

DNC Chair Donna Brazile said, "We do not believe, or have any evidence to suggest, that the activities articulated in the video actually occurred."[155][156] Scott Foval was fired by Americans United for Change after the first video was released.[157] Foval later said he had been set up.[151][152][153] Robert Creamer a DNC consultant and husband of U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, said, "We regret the unprofessional and careless hypothetical conversations that were captured on hidden cameras of a regional contractor for our firm, and he is no longer working with us," he said. "While none of the schemes described in the conversations ever took place, these conversations do not at all reflect the values of Democracy Partners."[157] Shortly afterwards, Creamer, who was also featured in the video, said he would end his consulting arrangement with the DNC to avoid becoming a "distraction".[152]

Following the publication of his videos, O'Keefe filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and the DNC, alleging "a criminal conspiracy" involving the Clinton campaign, the DNC and three left-leaning super PACs.[158] On June 1, 2017, Creamer's firm, Democracy Partners, filed a $1 million lawsuit against Project Veritas, claiming Project Veritas had lied to gain access to the firm and violating anti-wiretapping laws.[159]

In response to a third video, in which O'Keefe stated that Clinton was behind an illegal public relations gimmick to punish Trump for not releasing his tax returns, the Clinton campaign denied any wrongdoing. Independent campaign finance experts posited the video doesn't support O'Keefe's claims. Clinton said she was aware of the activists dressed as Donald Duck, who were following Donald Trump while asking about his tax returns, and said she was amused.[160]

On October 26, 2016, O'Keefe posted a fourth video on his Project Veritas Action YouTube channel. The video alleged that liberal groups supporting Hillary Clinton were illegally taking foreign money. The targeted group, Americans United for Change foundation, is a 501(c)4 organization and is allowed to legally accept foreign contributions. However, AUC returned the money shortly after the video was released. The group's chief stated, "We returned the money because the last thing we want to be associated with is a character like O'Keefe who has been convicted and successfully sued for his illegal tactics and fraudulent activities."[161]

On January 9, 2017, Project Veritas operative Allison Maass was filmed attempting to bribe members of Americans Take Action into inciting a riot at Trump's inauguration.[162][163] On January 16, 2017, Project Veritas uploaded a video showing DC Antifascist Coalition members of Disrupt J20 plotting to use "stink bombs" at the DeploraBall. After the video's release, Disrupt J20 denied the statements, saying that the members deliberately gave false information to Veritas.[164] The video led to the arrest of one man allegedly involved in the plan,[165] as well as two associates. All three individuals pleaded guilty.[166]

New York City elections official video (2016)

In October 2016, Project Veritas released a video taken at a United Federation of Teachers holiday party on December 16, 2015. It was secretly recorded by a Project Veritas associate posing as a political consultant. In the video, the Democratic representative from Manhattan on the New York City Board of Elections, Commissioner Alan Schulkin, agreed with several of the Veritas operatives' statements criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio's municipal ID program.[167] Schulkin said, "The law says you can't ask for anything. Which they really should be able to do. I believe they should be able to do it. They should ask for your ID. I think there is a lot of voter fraud." and "People don't realise certain neighbourhoods in particular, they bus people around to vote. They put them in a bus and go poll site to poll site."[168][167]

Shortly after the release of the video, Mayor de Blasio called Schulkin's behavior "entirely inappropriate" and said that Schulkin should resign.[169] In a follow-up interview with the New York Post, Schulkin stated, "I should have said 'potential fraud' instead of 'fraud'". Referring to the Project Veritas operative who secretely recorded him, Schulkin said, "She was like a nuisance. I was just trying to placate her", noting that in his haste to get away from her he "was agreeing with her when I shouldn’t have been."[167][170] Schulkin was not reappointed after his term expired on December 31, 2016.[171]

CNN undercover videos (2017)

On June 26, 2017, O'Keefe released a hidden-camera video on Project Veritas' YouTube channel that showed John Bonifield, a producer of health and medical stories for CNN, saying that CNN's coverage of the Russian investigation was for "ratings" and that the coverage was "mostly bullshit".[172] Bonifield had no involvement in CNN's political reporting; the video falsely implied that Bonifeld held a senior decision-making role at CNN.[172] When questioned about who Bonifield was speaking to or the video's source, Project Veritas declined to comment.[172] According to an investigation by CNN, Veritas' operative gained access to Bonifield by falsely presenting themselves as someone seeking a mentor for a career in journalism.[172] In a statement, CNN stated: "CNN stands by our medical producer John Bonifield. Diversity of personal opinion is what makes CNN strong, we welcome it and embrace it."[173][174] During a White House press briefing, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders encouraged people to watch the video "whether it's accurate or not".[174]

On June 28, 2017, O'Keefe released the second part of the series of undercover videos, by then dubbed "American Pravda". In the video, CNN anchor Van Jones said, "The Russia thing is just a big nothingburger."[175] When asked about the video in an email, CNN responded "lol".[176] During that same day, the videos were posted on Donald Trump's Instagram account.[177] Jones said that O'Keefe had deceptively edited the video to take his remarks out of context and was attempting to "pull off a hoax." Jones added that he believed that there probably was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.[178]

On June 30, 2017, O'Keefe released the third part of the undercover videos. Part 3 of the series showed CNN associate producer Jimmy Carr saying that Trump is "fucking crazy" and that "on the inside, we all recognize he is a clown, that he is hilariously unqualified for this, he's really bad at this, and that he does not have America's best interests". Carr also said "This is a man who's not actually a Republican, he just adopted that because that was the party he thought he could win in. He doesn't believe anything that these people believe."[179] Additionally, he said American voters are "stupid as shit."[179] He also made comments about Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, calling her an "awful woman" and stating that she "looks like she got hit with a shovel".[179] In a fourth video published by Project Veritas on July 5, Carr criticized CNN co-anchor Chris Cuomo.[180]

New Jersey Education Association videos (2018)

On May 2, 2018, Project Veritas posted on YouTube two videos in which a Project Veritas employees, posing as the sister of a non-existent teacher, falsely stated that their fictional brother had pushed a student and expressed concern for their future; the union administrators they were speaking to reassured them.[181][182] In the second video, the administrator referenced a teacher who had been accused of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact with a 16-year-old student, stating that they had successfully defended them; in reality, the teacher had pled guilty.[183] The union attempted to force the administrator in question to resign, but an arbitrator blocked this decision, ruling it "too harsh a penalty" for their statements.[183]

Internal Google documents (2019)

In 2019, a former software engineer, Zachary Vorhies, released internal Google documents to Project Veritas regarding the 2016 presidential election.[184] CNBC reviewed the documents and reported that "the documents do not appear to contain any outright allegation of vote manipulation or attempts to bias the election." Google declined to comment on the material.[184]

CNBC reported that among other things, the documents appeared to include lists related to how Google determines whether news sources are credible or whether they contain hate speech, which Project Veritas purported to indicate bias in search rankings.[184] In response to a tweet by Donald Trump, in which he claimed, without evidence, that Google manipulated 2.6 million votes favoring Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, a Google spokesperson reiterated a previous statement that Google has "never re-ranked or altered search results to manipulate political sentiment."[184]

Minnesota videos (2020)

In September 2020, Project Veritas and O'Keefe had repeatedly promoted the release of material supposedly showing evidence of voter fraud, with September 28 being the promoted release date. On September 27, Mike Lindell, honorary chairman of President Trump's re-election campaign in Minnesota, abruptly announced that the release date was changed to that very day, within hours of The New York Times publishing information on its investigation of the tax returns of Donald Trump. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of Washington concluded that the change in timing was likely connected to the Times story.[185]

O'Keefe began releasing the material on Twitter on September 27, in video form. Within seven minutes, Donald Trump Jr., the son of the president, separately uploaded the video to Twitter, instead of re-sharing the video from O'Keefe's account. Two minutes later, an account for Trump's re-election campaign re-shared the video, while Trump himself soon began responding. Additionally, Trump Jr. uploaded the video to Facebook earlier than O'Keefe. These events present "questions of coordination" on whether the Trump campaign "had access to the video before the general public", stated the researchers from the two universities.[185] In addition, several well-known right-wing Twitter accounts both promoted the release of the material, and immediately shared the Twitter video upon release, leading to researchers concluding that this was "a great example of what a coordinated disinformation campaign looks like".[185]

Project Veritas alleged that the material they released showed that Minnesota's Representative Ilhan Omar was connected to a cash-for-ballot harvesting scheme. Fact-checking website Snopes wrote that the videos "lack evidence to support this accusation", and that they included "clips of conversations that raise questions about the original context and intent of the words spoken."[186] Snopes requested that Project Veritas release its raw, unedited footage, but Project Veritas refused. Snopes also could not verify the accuracy of the Somali to English translations done by Project Veritas.[186] USA Today offered a similar assessment in their fact-check, stating that the Project Veritas material provides "no actual proof of fraud or any relationship between individuals in the video and Omar or her campaign".[187] The New York Times wrote that the Project Veritas used only unidentified sources, and provided "no verifiable evidence that Representative Ilhan Omar’s campaign had collected ballots illegally," writing that the story "was probably part of a coordinated disinformation effort".[188]

The main material featured by Project Veritas were two videos uploaded to YouTube. The videos feature only one person who was both identified and interviewed on-camera: Omar Jamal. He describes himself as "part of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office". The Office stated that Omar Jamal was part of the community support group, instead of being involved in policing activities. Omar Jamal was not speaking on behalf of the Office when he alleged voter fraud, stated the Office. Omar Jamal also mentions his leadership of the Somali Watchdog Group. Its website was created in August 2020, which mentions no other members of the organization other than Omar Jamal.[186] The Daily Dot describes Omar Jamal as "uncredentialed" and "questionable", noting that he claimed to have studied at Tufts University Graduate School of International Affairs, but the school denied it. The Daily Dot also states that Omar Jamal is not the United Nations Permanent Representative to the Federal Republic of Somalia, as he has claimed.[189] Shortly after the release of the videos, Jamal started soliciting for public donations on GoFundMe, asking for a total of $500,000 for legal defense funds and for "financial stability".[190]

Project Veritas named the first YouTube video: Ilhan Omar connected Ballot Harvester in cash-for-ballots scheme: 'Car is full' of absentee ballots. This video featured Snapchat clips of Liban Osman, a man from Minneapolis. Liban Osman never mentions Ilhan Omar, but does refer to his brother, Jamal Osman, a Minneapolis City Councilman. In different Snapchat clips, Mohamed separately makes reference to the topics of money and ballots, although he never says he received money to collect ballots. Ballot harvesting is legal in Minnesota, and there was no limit on collecting absentee ballots in Minnesota from late July 2020 to early September 2020.[186][191] FOX 9 received the full Snapchat clips from Liban Osman, who alleged that Project Veritas had edited and combined the videos to take them out of context. FOX 9 described the full clips as showing that Liban Osman was working for his brother, not Ilhan Omar. The full Snapchat clips also showed that when Liban Osman discussed money in politics, he was referring to his brother's competitors in Minneapolis' Ward 6 election, many of whom had little-funded campaigns.[191] Liban Osman told FOX 9 that he rejected a $10,000 bribe by Omar Jamal to say that Liban Osman was offering to pay people to vote for Ilhan Omar.[191]

The second YouTube video uploaded on this topic by Project Veritas was entitled Omar Connected Harvester SEEN Exchanging $200 for General Election Ballot. 'We don't care illegal.' However, Snopes states that it is "unclear what's going on. All one sees in the video is two unidentified men speaking Somali in an outdoor setting, discussing filling out a voter registration form. At one point, money allegedly changes hands."[186] FOX 9 heard from two sources that the two men in the above incident are Omar Jamal and a relative of his, and that what Omar Jamal was doing was passing his relative $200 to transfer to the family of another relative, who was sick in Somalia.[191]

As a result of the videos, the Minneapolis Police is "looking into the validity" of the allegations.[186] The Sahan Journal reported that Omar Jamal had later given an interview where he stated that he had not met any person who was paid to vote, which would contradict what he told Project Veritas.[187]

Pennsylvania postal worker video (2020)

Project Veritas released a video where a Pennsylvania postal worker in Erie claimed, without evidence, that on November 5, the Erie postmaster told a postal supervisor "that they messed up yesterday", because "they had postmarked one of the ballots the fourth instead of the third, because they were supposed to put them for the third".[192][193]

On November 10, officials of the Postal Service Office of Inspector General told members of Congress that the postal worker had recanted the claims to investigators.[194] The Washington Post, citing three anonymous sources, reported on November 11 that the postal worker, Richard Hopkins, had acknowledged to investigators that the allegations were not true. Hopkins publicly denied that he had recanted his allegations.[193]

Also on November 11, Project Veritas released a two-hour audio recording purportedly of the conversation between Hopkins and the investigators. The Washington Post described it as "not clear" if Project Veritas had edited the audio recording before release. In the recording, Hopkins is heard saying that Project Veritas wrote his affidavit for him. Additionally, Hopkins recounted that when he was interacting with Project Veritas, he was in "so much shock [he] wasn't paying that much attention to what they were telling me". Hopkins says in the audio that he heard parts of a conversation, with the specific phrases he heard being "ballots on the 4th", "all for the 3rd", and "one postmarked on the 4th". Hopkins acknowledged in the audio that he had not heard the word "backdate".[195]

The Postal Service inspector general investigated and released a report in March 2021 confirming that Hopkins had recanted the account and finding no evidence to support his original claim.[194] Project Veritas continued to promote the postal worker's claims of fraud after they had been discredited.[194]

Incidents

Senator Mary Landrieu (2010)

O'Keefe and colleagues were arrested in the Hale Boggs Federal Complex in New Orleans in January 2010 and charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony, at the office of United States Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. His three fellow activists, who were dressed as telephone repairmen when apprehended, included Robert Flanagan, the son of William Flanagan, acting U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Louisiana.[196][197] The four men were charged with malicious intent to damage the phone system.[198] O'Keefe stated that he had entered Landrieu's office to investigate complaints that she was ignoring phone calls from constituents during the debate over President Barack Obama's health care bill.[199]

The charges in the case were reduced from a felony to a single misdemeanor count of entering a federal building under false pretenses.[200][201] O'Keefe and the others pleaded guilty on May 26. O'Keefe was sentenced to three years' probation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine. The other three men received lesser sentences.[202]

In August 2013, O'Keefe revisited the incident by releasing a video entitled: "a confrontation with former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten on the campus of Tulane University". Letten is a former Republican U.S. Attorney who recused himself from the Landrieu incident because he knew the father of one of the men involved. The video shows Letten accusing O'Keefe of "terrorizing" Letten's wife at their home, of harassing him, and trespassing on the Tulane campus. He called O'Keefe a "coward" and a "spud", and referred to O'Keefe and his companions as "hobbits" and "scum".[203]

Abbie Boudreau (2010)

In August 2010, O'Keefe planned a staged encounter with the CNN correspondent Abbie Boudreau, who was doing a documentary on the young conservative movement. He set up an appointment at his office in Maryland to discuss a video shoot.[204] Izzy Santa, executive director of Project Veritas, warned Boudreau that O'Keefe was planning to "punk" her on the boat by trying to seduce her—which he would film on hidden cameras.[204][205] Boudreau did not board the boat and soon left the area.[204][205]

CNN later published a 13-page plan written by O'Keefe mentor Ben Wetmore. It listed props for the boat scheme, including pornography, sexual aids, condoms, a blindfold and "fuzzy" handcuffs.[204][205][206] When questioned by CNN, O'Keefe denied he was going to follow the Wetmore plan, as he found parts of it inappropriate.[205] Boudreau commented "that does not appear to be true, according to a series of emails we obtained from Izzy Santa, who says the e-mails reveal James' true intentions."[207]

Following the Boudreau incident, Project Veritas paid Izzy Santa a five-figure settlement after she threatened to sue, which included a nondisclosure agreement.[208]

Attempt to solicit voter fraud (2014)

In October 2014, O'Keefe and his two colleagues attempted to bait staffers for Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and then-U.S. Senator Mark Udall, as well as independent expenditure organizations, into approving voter fraud, according to several staffers who interacted with O'Keefe and his colleagues. Staffers began photographing O'Keefe's crew and advising them that what they were advocating was illegal; one nonprofit said they contacted police.[209]

Attempted sting of Open Society Foundations (2016)

On March 16, 2016, O'Keefe attempted to call Open Society Foundations under the assumed name of "Victor Kesh", describing himself as attached to "a, uh, foundation"[sic] seeking to "get involved with you and aid what you do in fighting for, um, European values."[sic] O'Keefe forgot to hang up after recording the voicemail, and several more minutes of audio were recorded, revealing that he was attached to Discover the Networks and planning a series of attempts to create embarrassing videos or other recordings of targeted groups.[210][211]

Failed attempt to sting The Washington Post (2017)

Beginning in July 2017, Project Veritas operative Jaime Phillips attempted to infiltrate The Washington Post and other media outlets by joining networking groups related to journalism and left-leaning politics. She and a male companion attended events related to the Post, and their conversations with journalists were sometimes covertly recorded.[212]

In November 2017, The Washington Post reported that several women accused Republican Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of pursuing them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.[213] Later that same month, Jaime Phillips approached The Washington Post and falsely claimed that Moore had impregnated her as a teenager and that she had an abortion.[213][214] In conducting its usual fact-checking, the Post discovered multiple red flags in her story. They found a GoFundMe page in her name that said, "I've accepted a job to work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt [sic] of the liberal MSM." After a Post reporter confronted her with the inconsistencies during a video-recorded interview, Phillips denied that she was working with an organization that targets journalists, and said that she no longer wanted to do the story.[213] She was seen outside Project Veritas' office in Mamaroneck, New York, with her car remaining at the office's parking lot for more than an hour.[213] O'Keefe declined to comment about the woman's apparent connection to Project Veritas.[213][214] Instead of running a story about Phillips' supposed pregnancy, the Post published an article about the attempted sting operation. The Post decided to disclose Phillips' original discussions made off the record, saying that Phillips' lies voided any agreement to keep those disclosures confidential.[213]

Hours after the Post published this story, O'Keefe released a video which he claimed exposed the newspaper's liberal bias.[215] The video includes undercover footage of conversations with two Post employees, national security reporter Dan Lamothe and product director Joey Marburger.[216] These employees explained to undercover Project Veritas operatives the difference between the news reporting of The Washington Post (which calls out the Trump administration's missteps while giving "him credit where there's credit" due) and the Post's opinion editorials; O'Keefe said that this exposed the Washington Post's "hidden agenda."[215][217]

O'Keefe was criticized for his failed sting, and The Washington Post was praised. Rod Dreher of The American Conservative praised the Post and called on conservative donors to stop giving money to O'Keefe's outfit.[218] Dan McLaughlin of the conservative National Review said that O'Keefe's sting was an "own goal" and that O'Keefe was doing a disservice to the conservative movement;[219] Jim Geraghty of the National Review made a similar assessment.[220] Byron York of The Washington Examiner said that O'Keefe's "idiocy" was "beyond boneheaded," and that "O'Keefe really ought to hang it up."[221] Ben Shapiro, the conservative editor in chief of The Daily Wire, said that the botched sting was "horrible, both morally and effectively."[221] Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic wrote, "If James O'Keefe respected the right-wing populists who make up the audience of Project Veritas ... he would tell them the truth about all of the organizations that he targets. Instead, Project Veritas operates in bad faith, an attribute it demonstrated again this week in the aftermath of its bungled attempt to trick The Washington Post."[222] Noah Rothman of the conservative magazine Commentary chastised O'Keefe for being exploitative of his audience: "No longer are institutions like Veritas dedicated to combating ignorance in their audience. They're actively courting it."[223]

Jonathan Chait of New York magazine said that O'Keefe, having set out to prove that the Post was fake news, ended up disproving it. O'Keefe's plot collapsed because it was premised on a ludicrously false worldview, wrote Chait. "The Washington Post does not, in fact, publish unverified accusations just because they're against Republicans." O'Keefe's attempts to prove rampant voter fraud have failed "because voter fraud is not rampant."[224]

In 2018, The Washington Post was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for its coverage of the allegations against Moore, including its exposé of the unsuccessful Project Veritas sting.[18][59]

Funding and organization

Much of the funding for Project Veritas comes from anonymous donations through Donors Trust, a conservative, American nonprofit donor-advised fund backed by the Koch brothers, which according to its promotional materials, says that it will "keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues".[2][225][226] Donors Trust provided Project Veritas with gradually increasing cash infusions, including $25,000 in 2011, $922,500 in 2015,[60] $1.7 million in 2016,[50] and over $4 million in 2019.[61]

Other prominent donors include the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which donated $20,000 in 2015,[60] including a $10,000 transfer in May 2015,[6][227] which was made a month before the launch of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.[6] O'Keefe attended, as a guest of the Trump campaign, the final presidential debate, and was later available in the spin room following the Las Vegas event.[231]

The group is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.[232] The group's affiliate is the Project Veritas Action Fund.[63]

The Daily Dot reported that they found a pattern in which Project Veritas' supposed whistleblowers "almost all establish crowdfunding pages hyped by Project Veritas within days and hours of going public with their allegations." The Daily Dot provided seven examples in 2019 or 2020: Richard Hopkins, Zach McElroy, Eric Cochran, Cary Poarch, Greg Copolla, Ryan Hartwig, and Omar Jamal, who each raised between $20,000 to over $115,000 on GoFundMe, although in some instances, the money was not disbursed.[233]

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