In Their Bid for Special Master, Project Veritas Provided Evidence of Possible Extortion

The warrants targeting James O’Keefe and two other Project Veritas figures list “Conspiracy to transport stolen property across state lines and conspiracy to possess stolen goods” and “Interstate transportation of stolen property” as the primary crimes under investigation.

That raised real concerns for me about the propriety of this search, because Bartnicki says that it is not illegal for journalists (or anyone else, including rat-fuckers like PV) to receive stolen information if they had nothing to do with the theft. This seemed like it might be a backdoor way to go after PV’s “journalism.”

A NYT story that fills in many of the details about the investigation into PV explains why such charges might not be unreasonable in this case: as PV had explained in multiple filings, PV appears to have had the diary transported from New York back to Florida to “return it” to law enforcement. It’s how (and when) they did so that is of interest. They did so only after being told they should treat the diary as stolen, and after Joe Biden had been declared the winner of the election last year.

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.

This lawyer, who is not listed among the close to forty lawyers with whom PV is claiming privilege, told Del Ray cops a story — that his client obtained the diary from a hotel — that doesn’t match any of the details PV is now using for their cover story. So if he weren’t already in trouble for telling cops a false story unprotected by privilege, PV may have created some problems for him.

The FBI included several kinds of evidence pertaining to location in their warrants (which, among other things, will help them determine who traveled with the diary back and forth from Florida).

Evidence of the location of Ashley Biden’s property and the location of the user of the Subject Accounts at times relevant to the Subject Offenses, such as communications that reference particular geographic locations or refer to the property being located in a particular place.


Evidence of the identity, locations, knowledge, and participation in the Subject Offenses of potential co-conspirators, such as communications with other individuals—including, but not limited to, Jennifer Kiyak, Tyler Moore, Elaine Ber, Anthony Wray, Jackson Voynick, Leon Sculti, Robert Kurlander, Aimee Harris, Stephanie Walczak, and Elizabeth Fago—about obtaining, transporting, transferring, disseminating, or otherwise disposing of Ashley Biden’s stolen property, including but not limited to communications reflecting the knowledge of coconspirators that the property obtained from Ashley Biden had been stolen, and communications that contain personally identifiable information of co-conspirators and references to coconspirators’ places of residence or locations at particular points in time.


Evidence reflecting the location of other evidence with respect to the Subject Offenses, such as communications reflecting registration of online accounts potentially containing relevant evidence of the scheme. [my emphasis; redaction fail PV’s]

Bartnicki protects journalists from possessing stolen property if they didn’t have a role in stealing it. But it doesn’t protect journalists from transferring stolen property that they choose not to publish back across state lines in a ploy to ensure it no longer remains in their possession in case of investigation.

The crime under investigation, then, may not be transferring the diary from Florida to New York, but transferring it back after Biden won, something that PV seems to be spinning as a do-gooder effort to reunite Ms. Biden with her property.

Investigating this shady attempt to unload the diary may be a way to obtain evidence of a more typical crime that PV (as opposed to their co-conspirators) may have committed: extortion, which is not among the listed crimes but which would show up in plain view in a return of the materials being sought. The FBI sought information on communications to Ms. Biden and her family.

Evidence of communications regarding or in furtherance of the Subject Offenses, such as communications with or relating to Ashley Biden (and representatives thereof) and/or Ashley Biden’s family, friends, or associates with respect to her stolen property.


Evidence of steps taken in preparation for or in furtherance of the Subject Offenses, such as surveillance of Ashley Biden or property associated with her, and drafts of communications to Ashley Biden, President Biden, and Ashley Biden’s associates regarding her stolen property and communications among co-conspirators discussing what to do with her property.

Such communications would be necessary, of course, to confirm that (and when) PV and its alleged co-conspirators affirmatively learned that Ms. Biden considered the diary stolen. But it will also return details of this type of communication, as reported by NYT:

On Oct. 16, 2020, Project Veritas wrote to Mr. Biden and his campaign that it had obtained a diary Ms. Biden had “abandoned” and wanted to question Mr. Biden on camera about its contents that referred specifically to him.

“Should we not hear from you by Tuesday, October 20, 2020, we will have no choice but to act unilaterally and reserve the right to disclose that you refused our offer to provide answers to the questions raised by your daughter,” Project Veritas’ chief legal officer, Jered T. Ede, wrote.

In response, Ms. Biden’s lawyers accused Project Veritas of threatening them as part of “extortionate effort to secure an interview” with Mr. Biden in the campaign’s closing days.

Ms. Biden’s lawyers refused to acknowledge whether the diary belonged to Ms. Biden but told Mr. Ede that Project Veritas should treat it as stolen property — the lawyers suggested that “serious crimes” might have been committed — and that any suggestion that the diary was abandoned was “ludicrous.”

As I previously noted, when O’Keefe made a flopsweat video to try to spin his actions, he offered up that PV had made no threats.

In his heavily-edited flopsweat video, O’Keefe states PV “never threatened or engaged in any illegal conduct.” It would be unusual for PV not to try to confront anyone with a valuable document; their schtick is misrepresenting the response of their targets. And in all of PV’s communications, they emphasize efforts to validate the diary, which might be a way to spin other kinds of communications. [my emphasis]

Calling up a Presidential candidate and demanding an interview on threat of publication of the diary sure seems like a threat.

Both Spencer Meads

One could argue that utilizing federal law enforcement resources to investigate whether the personal diary of a then-presidential candidate’s daughter was stolen – a task that almost certainly be given low priority treatment by a local police detective if the diary’s owner was an average American – should be beneath the Department of Justice’s purview.

And PV mock the idea that the FBI would investigate a mere stolen diary.

If a person not named Biden had misplaced her diary and overnight bag, would the FBI investigate at all, much less raid the home of one of America’s most influential journalists? The case of the abandoned diary (or the case of the abandoned overnight bag) is an investigation better suited for the Hardy Boys than the DOJ and FBI.

The notion might be funny, except that the actions of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York inflict serious violence not just on the credibility of that office, but on the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States itself.

But if the diary were valuable enough to extort a Presidential candidate over, it would surely merit the attention of the FBI.

And this is where PV may have really fucked themselves. Purportedly as part of an effort to prove PV’s journalistic ethics (but possibly in an effort to coordinate stories with co-conspirators), PV attorney Paul Calli produced an email dated October 12, 2020, which he claims shows PV’s decision, already made, not to publish the diary.

Although there was compelling evidence of the diary’s authenticity, James O’Keefe and Project Veritas’s newsroom staff ultimately found that the evidence of authenticity did not rise to a level sufficient to satisfy their journalistic ethical standards for news publishing. This remains fully consistent with their internal belief that the diary was genuine – the sordid nature of the diary’s contents required that a high threshold be satisfied prior to running a story on it. As James O’Keefe summarized the editorial concerns in an October 12, 2020, email:

Team, I’ve thought carefully on whether to release this so-called ‘Sting Ray’ story which involve entries in a personal diary to a very public figure.

My thinking and analysis in short is this:

To release means the action is less wrong than the necessary wrongs that would follow if the information were not utilized and published. But in this case even more harm would be done to the person in question and Project Veritas if we were to release this piece. We have no doubt the document is real, but [i]t is impossible to corroborate the allegation further. The subsequent reactions would be characterized as a cheap shot.

Whereas the great novelist Ernest Hemingway said[,] “[W]hat is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after,” the great novelist Thomas B. Morgan paraphrased thus[:] “Morally defensible journalism is rarely what you feel good about afterward; it is only that which makes you feel better than you would otherwise.[”]

Using the Hemingway analysis, this very private entry related to a public figure’s family is not worth it, and it’s indefensible to publish what we currently have. I’m not worried about things we look into allegations but not publishing. Our actions so far are entirely defensible.

We are launching Colorado and CT tapes this week, which are unquestionably stronger and will make waves much bigger.

Ex. B. If James O’Keefe is a “political spy,” as his politically motivated detractors (such as those in corporate competitors like the New York Times) falsely allege, he could have simply published a salacious news story regarding Ashley Biden’s diary. But he did not. James O’Keefe’s and Project Veritas’s fidelity to their journalistic ethics include high editorial standards. To the extent they harbored any doubt that the diary was authored by Ashley Biden, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the FBI have removed all doubt. Nothing could be better confirmation of the diary’s authenticity and the claims therein than the government’s use of federal law enforcement to invade the homes of journalists who did not even run a story on the diary, but only considered doing so, and then turned all material provided to it by sources over to law enforcement. [my emphasis]

See my discussion (and, in comments, William Ockham’s) of signs that this email may have been crafted by lawyers as a CYA here.

Calli presents this email as reflecting a final decision from the outlet’s Editor-in-Chief not to publish this diary. Which means PV would have no journalistic purpose calling Biden after October 12. They weren’t going to publish the diary.

That would mean PV would have no journalistic purpose in calling Biden on October 16 to try to even ask for — much less extort — an interview.

There seems to be good reason why O’Keefe was flopsweating. Given how heavily edited that video is, I can’t believe they left in the mention of threats.

Because at least according to the NYT, PV made a threat to a Presidential candidate after already deciding that they weren’t going to publish. And only then did they allgedly transport the stolen property back across state lines.

Update: In an obnoxious pretense of responding to (Maddow’s coverage of) the NYT story, O’Keefe posted the second page of the letter to Biden. It reads, in part:

Should we not hear from you by Tuesday, October 20, 2020, we will have no choice but to act unilaterally and reserve the right to disclose that you refused our offer to provide answers to the questions raised by your daughter.

That doesn’t sound much like journalism to me.

These events are covered by three SDNY dockets: 21-mc-813 for James O’Keefe21-mc-819 for Eric Cochran, and 21-mc-825 for Spencer Meads.

46 replies
  1. bmaz says:

    Bartnicki was a civil case as to civil liability. How much it applies in criminal settings is less clear. It very well might, but it may not. Not sure it will protect O’Keefe.

    Adding that most of the “across state lines” statutes seem antiquated in this day and age.

  2. GKJames says:

    (1) Who “abandons” diaries? (2) “Should we not hear from you … we will have no choice but to act unilaterally and reserve the right to disclose that you refused our offer to provide answers to the questions raised by your daughter”: Extortion per se? And from a chief legal officer, no less. Amazing.

    • Michael says:

      If you read the article, it seems like what happens is that Ashley Biden left her diary at a friend’s home, planning to pick it up later. Then Ashley Biden’s friend let a friend with two kids stay over until she got back on her feet and the friend took the diary and sold it to Project Veritas, claiming it was “abandoned property”. Of course, if you tried something like that when someone was kind enough to let you stay at their home, nobody who heard about it would let you in their home again. Still, I’m not sure this kind of behavior is egregious enough to overcome Project Veritas’s First Amendment protections, unless there’s more to the story.

      • bmaz says:

        Um, so you blatantly admit that it was stolen, and think that it was stolen by a “guest” is somehow mitigating? Really??

        • BobCon says:

          No kidding, that article has a lot of gaps. There is a huge amount left unexplained how PV knew about it and how it was sold.

          It’s possible it was an honest tip and the payment was nothing more than FedEx costs. At the other extreme maybe PV had been staking out the house for months and hired the roommate to steal the diary. Or some other scenario.

          Based on the reported facts it’s not possible to rule out something illegal happened, or that the government may have a pretty serious amount of evidence which might include testimony by participants. The case may also fail but I’d be wary of any attempt to jump to conclusions about what evidence the government has.

        • Michael says:

          I should have worded that differently. What I meant was that if the “guest” spontaneously decided to steal the diary and give it to Project Veritas, then arguably that shouldn’t override PV’s First Amendment protections. OTOH, if Project Veritas asked the “guest” to stay at the home for the express purpose of stealing the diary, then Project Veritas doesn’t deserve the benefit of First Amendment protections.

        • P J Evans says:

          Not to mention why they didn’t simply hand the diary to a lawyer to return when they “found out” it was stolen and decided not to publish its contents (which weren’t material they should have had).

      • emptywheel says:

        There’s likely more to the story. That’s true, first of all, bc (as NYT does not report) the PV guy who had the first contact said this started in August, not September. So there was likely a contact before that.

      • Troutwaxer says:

        The problem here is that Project Veritas is known for their slimy tactics. While they do have a legal presumption of innocence I’d never bet against their taking the low road.

      • Fraud Guy says:

        Is this why Democrats don’t want Republicans as friends? Like Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky, how many times will their friendship be betrayed for political gain.

      • GKJames says:

        My point was a simpler one: I’m not sure that a trier of fact (whether judge or jury) would find the “abandoned” argument — whoever made it — persuasive.

  3. BobCon says:

    The PV prior restraint order on the NY Times is still in effect, with minor modifications, which leads to obvious questions about the implications down the road.

    The Times characterizes the order as blatantly unconstitutional, but their only recourse so far seems to be appealing to the judge who issued the order, who of course sees no reason to seriously move.

    Is this going to mean any Trump friendly judge in Florida or Texas can accept a defamation case as shady as PV’s case against the Times, and then use it as the basis for an even more extreme, wider ranging restraint order against a vast swath of non-Fox media?

    Do we see media blackouts for long stretches on major issues to the benefit of candidates favored by right wing judges who ignore common standards, including in the runups to elections?

    The judge in this case, Charles Wood, was elected to hear county level cases in NY State, and he has already refused to accept the established standard that a reporter’s stated opinion characterizing someone is an acceptable part of a story. The Times will probably eventually win in federal court, but if this is replicated in a place like Texas, what stops the process along the way from being much worse?

  4. Rugger9 says:

    PV has been leading a charmed life with respect to accountability, and FWIW I have zero doubt that someone in the Trumpworld orbit (like Roger Stone perhaps) tasked PV with digging up some dirt on Biden by any means necessary. O’Keefe needed to be jailed for almost every “sting” since ACORN (i.e. bugging Landrieu’s office), but the last administration made it clear that it was OK to slime away as long as the Ds were hit and the GQPs fingerprints were not shown. Plausible deniability has been in the GQP playbook since before Reagan’s cabal used the term, at least back into the McCarthy ’50s.

    With the new DoJ that protection is gone, and it would seem that PV’s legal team just clued into that situation. If these Biden snipe hunts are considered to be campaign activity, maybe some FEC laws / regulations could also be leveraged for accountability.

    • gmoke says:

      “Plausible deniability has been in the GQP playbook since before Reagan’s cabal used the term, at least back into the McCarthy ’50s.”

      I’d date it back to the “business plot” to oust FDR in 1933 but then I may like history too much.

      • punaise says:

        Different generational reference. I read every Hardy Boys book as a kid in the 60s, totally oblivious to what probably now reads as cringe-worthy post-Eisenhower-era conformist white privilege. etc. From Wikipedia:

        Chester “Chet” Morton appears in most of The Hardy Boys books. He often tags along on the boys’ little adventures. He is portrayed as a stout fellow and is often described as “plump” or “chubby”, with a love for food. The books describe his bright yellow jalopy, which he had named “Queen”, as the “pride of Chet’s life”, and he works on it daily to “soup up” the engine. His stature and not-athletic nature make him a frequent source of comic relief; however, it is noted that he can move fast when needed.

        Allen “Biff” Hooper is a six-foot, blond-haired, muscular friend of the Hardy boys. He excels at boxing, wrestling, football and fencing. He has an ambling gait, “with which he could cover a tremendous amount of territory in a short time”.

        • blueedredcounty says:

          Loved reading the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew, (and Tom Swift, and Rick Brant) through the late 60’s and early 70’s.

          I’ve never thought of it in terms of “cringe-worthy post-Eisenhower-era conformist white privilege” before, but maybe that’s because I knew the original versions of some of the books went back to the 1920’s. I did always get the New York/New England/Yankee/WASPy feel.

        • punaise says:

          I haven’t get to back and read any of it, but I think we’re essentially describing the same thing with different terminology. Although you have a good point about the timeframe.

          How about that Encyclopedia Brown fellow, eh?

        • blueedredcounty says:

          I think you’re right about different words for the same thing. Your description is accurate especially with the current use of white privilege. I was remembering my impressions from when I was reading them. The East-Coast/Yankee/WASP thing was striking to a poor-to-lower-middle-class half-Polish/half-Irish kid in a blue-collar Chicago suburb.

        • punaise says:

          Interesting. Growing up in middle class white bread proto-Silicon Valley I did sense the New England vibe, perhaps as a stand-in for goody-goody conventionality that in retrospect reinforces a lot of non-inclusive institutional/cultural biases of that era.

        • P J Evans says:

          I read some Nancy Drew bookss, and yeah, very white-bread northeastern feel to them. Also read some of Howard Pease’s books, as he lived for a while a couple of blocks up the street.

        • vvv says:

          The Tom Swift books, also.

          And what was that series about the college sports guy, Chip something … I recall being fascinated by his ability to “coffin-corner” punt a football.

    • Leoghann says:

      They would no doubt discuss a couple of half-baked ideas and some wild-ass theories, and then explain it all to Frank and Joe. Ending with “gosh, Frank, what should we do now?”

  5. Troutwaxer says:

    This lawyer, who is not listed among the close to forty lawyers with whom PV is claiming privilege, told Del Ray cops a story — that his client obtained the diary from a hotel — that doesn’t match any of the details PV is now using for their cover story. So if he weren’t already in trouble for telling cops a false story unprotected by privilege, PV may have created some problems for him.

    I think what’s more likely is that Project Veritas either lied directly to the lawyer about returning the diary, or possibly lied by omission. I’m not sure how that would play out legally, but hopefully the lawyer took good notes when PV walked into his office.

    • Rugger9 says:

      It would seem to me that 40 lawyers are an awful lot for an operation the size of PV. How many would have been shared with other GQP players and would that possibly interfere with asserting A-C privilege for those players?

  6. Riktol says:

    So in summary: the reason the FBI got involved is because PV committed a crime directly connected to a Presidential candidate, not because the original victim’s last name is Biden.
    Further, while the crimes being investigated can be committed by journalists and apparently not be a prosecutable offence, we now have reason to believe that the circumstances of this case don’t fall into that get-out-of-jail-free scenario.

    (s) It’s almost like all the hyperventilating speculation on twitter, without knowing the full facts of the case got the whole thing wrong!?!?!? Who could possibly have guessed? I hope everyone issues an apology and thereby restores the damaged public faith in the impartiality of the FBI. (/s)

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Clearly, there’s no connection between Joe Biden and something lost/stolen from his daughter. Would MSNBC have called Donald Trump about the return of a personal diary lost by or stolen from Ivanka? How about a call to Bill Clinton about Chelsea’s diary? Not even a, “Would you do us a favor, though, and grant us an interview?” would create a valid connection that did not suggest a threat or extortion.

    • Leoghann says:

      The diary in question was a combination diary and thought journal that Ashley wrote while she was in drug treatment. I’m sure the idea was to try to embarrass the candidate with his offspring’s peccadilloes, just as the “found” Hunter Biden laptop(s) were used.

      • Troutwaxer says:

        Possibly stepwork for an NA or AA program. I’ll bet one of their staffers recognized what it was, or maybe it was written in the diary. If so, releasing the diary had the potential to backfire horribly.

        • Leoghann says:

          Many long-term treatment programs try to get their patients into the habit of writing through a journal, even before the inventory steps (4 & 8) come up in the treatment time frame. That way, commencing a “moral inventory” doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

          The different ways of characterization of the place Ashley stayed, used by different sides in the diary drama, are interesting. Some accounts say Ashley was staying with a friend during or after her treatment. Others say it was a half-way house. One of the accounts listed above describes it as a hotel. Some programs deal mostly with people who actively seek treatment, rather than being lock down facilities. Apparently she did seek treatment. And some of those programs who deal with a well-heeled clientele use a small network of nicer houses as treatment-friendly residences for their patients, as opposed to the resort setting some programs are in. They’re almost like B and B’s, whose proprietor maintains a treatment-friendly atmosphere, is often in recovery, and sometimes is even an alumnus of the program.

          Keeping that in mind, all the characterizations are generally correct. But most mischaracterize the fact that Ashley was paying for her quarters, and had ever reason to expect her belongings to be treated as private. And I’ve yet to see much detail on the sort of place she went for treatment.

  8. WilliamOckham says:

    Let me see if I have the timeline on this right.

    12 October 2020 – Email purportedly representing PV decision not to publish
    16 October 2020 – PV threatens to publish, if not given Biden interview
    20 October 2020 – PV deadline, no Biden interview
    24 October 2020 – National File starts publishing the diary

    I can see how a suspicious federal prosecutor might think those events are related.

    • emptywheel says:

      The only reason I’m not convinced that happened is bc the “whistleblower” emphasized he knew exactly where the diary was.

      A bad move for plausibledeniablity.

      Or maybe these guys are just fucking stupid?

      • WilliamOckham says:

        I know which “whistleblower” you mean, but …this story is so messed up you sometimes will need to specify which “whistleblower” you’re talking about because there’s a lot of “whistleblowers” and they all require the air quotes. (brb need to file a Unicode proposal for two new characters “Air quote left” and “Air quote right”)

  9. Leoghann says:

    Does anyone besides me think it was a helluva coincidence that Robert Kurlander’s girlfriend just happened to be the next person to stay in that room after Ashley Biden left treatment? Piled on top of the amazing coincidence that President Biden’s kids sure do have a nasty habit of running off and leaving extremely sensitive personal logs in places where Magaturists can find them.

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