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Tick Tock: SDNY Tells Project Veritas, Again, To Wait Until James O’Keefe Is Indicted to Complain

As I noted back in March, when Project Veritas discovered what was clear from the start — that SDNY had relied on material obtained from emails involving James O’Keefe and two other Project Veritas associates to get warrants to obtain their phones — they tried to claw back not just the emails but also the phones.

[B]efore obtaining warrants to seize James O’Keefe’s phones, DOJ had first obtained emails that provided the evidence to get the warrants for his phones.

The Government disclosed many of its covert investigative steps in the ex parte context of the Affidavit, including each email search warrant it had obtained pursuant to the SCA in this investigation.

This is precisely what SDNY did with Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani, and it’s what Magistrate Judge Sarah Cave was talking about when she referred to the “considerable detail” in the affidavit.

Third, the Court has reviewed the Materials in camera and observes that they contain considerable detail about individuals who may have already provided information to the Government—voluntarily or involuntarily—such that unsealing of the Materials “could subject [them] to witness tampering, harassment, or retaliation.”

PV revealed that in a motion asking Judge Analisa Torres to claw back this information.

In March, DOJ told PV to wait until they were indicted to complain (here’s my thread on that response).

Days later, on March 30, PV tried again, petitioning Judge Torres to force the government to return all their phones and their emails.

Tick tock, tick tock.

On April 11, Judge Torres set a briefing schedule: the government had to file a response by May 6, and PV should file their reply by May 20.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Right on schedule, the government filed its response last night. The response is 28-pages long, much of which is dedicated to explaining to PV how the Fourth Amendment works and asserting that SDNY is quite confident the magistrates’ rulings findings there was probable cause that these accounts and devices would contain evidence of enumerated crimes will hold up. The discussion includes a particular focus on how SDNY already has precedents approving investigations that first obtain emails covertly and then seize phones overtly, as they did with Rudy Giuliani and (while they don’t rely on the precedent) did with Michael Cohen before that.

To the extent that the Movants are attempting to raise arguments with respect to execution of the warrants for email account data, there is no legal basis for such challenges at this stage of an ongoing grand jury investigation. Last year, Judge Oetken denied a similar challenge where the circumstances were materially the same: in the course of a multi-year, covert investigation, the Government obtained electronic data pursuant to judicially-authorized search warrants issued under 18 U.S.C. § 2703, the Government had reviewed that electronic data prior to the overt execution of search warrants for electronic devices, and a Special Master was appointed to oversee the review of the contents of the electronic devices (but not the electronic data obtained previously). Specifically, Judge Oetken ruled:

Giuliani and Toensing also seek pre-indictment discovery of the Government’s privilege and responsiveness designations in connection with the 2019 warrants [obtained covertly, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703]. They cite no legal authority for this request, and the Court is aware of none. If there is a criminal proceeding, any defendants will be entitled to discovery under Rule 16. There is no basis for compelling the Government to produce this information now, during an ongoing grand jury investigation.

Finally, the Court sees no legal basis for Toensing’s request for detailed information about the filter team review process, at least at the pre-charge phase of this matter.

In re Search Warrants Executed on Apr. 28, 2021, 2021 WL 2188150, at *2. The circumstances confronted by Judge Oetken are indistinguishable from those presented here. The Movants offer no authority contrary to Judge Oetken’s ruling, and the Government is aware of none. To the extent the Movants may potentially be entitled at some point to the disclosures that they seek, any such entitlement would only be triggered, if at all, by the filing of an indictment charging them in connection with the investigation, and not before.12

12 Or, potentially, by the filing of a civil claim, should one exist, that survives a motion to dismiss and proceeds to discovery.

Just for good measure, though, SDNY makes it clear they had reviewed all the emails before obtaining the overt warrants on O’Keefe and his flunkies, which makes it a good bet they relied on the email content to show probable cause to get the phone warrants.

With respect to the subscriber, non-content, and content information for email accounts referenced by the Movants, which were obtained pursuant to a grand jury subpoena and orders and warrants issued by federal magistrate judges pursuant to the Stored Communications Act (the “SCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2703, the Government’s review of those materials was completed months ago, before the Movants initiated this Part I matter in November 2021.

I’ve stated repeatedly this was what happened here, only to have a PV lawyer claim I was wrong.

I was not wrong.

As I said, the bulk of this filing is just a primer in how the Fourth Amendment works, as applied. It is thorough, but it mostly feels like T-crossing.

More specific to the facts at hand, however, SDNY accuses PV of attempting to bypass the Special Master process they themselves demanded and Judge Torres approved last year.

Consisting of equal parts rhetoric, speculation, and inaccurate factual assertions, the motion is little more than a misguided attempt to end-run the Special Master process that this Court put in place and prematurely litigate the merits of the Government’s prior investigative steps.

[snip]

With respect to the devices that are subject to the Special Master’s review, the Movants’ attempt to put these arguments before the Court while the same arguments are pending before the Special Master appears to be an improper end-run around the Special Master. As explained above, these very arguments were fully briefed as of April 20, 2022, and are in the process of being decided by the Special Master. The Movants should not be permitted to short-circuit the process that this Court put in place, at their request, and which will adequately safeguard any potentially privileged materials that were contained on the devices.11

11 In the event the Court finds any of these issues material to the resolution of the motion, the Court should defer consideration until after the Special Master has issued a ruling on the same.

Even if Torres is sympathetic to poor James O’Keefe’s plight (and she accorded him better treatment than Rudy Giuliani got in the same court), she’s likely to be pissed about this aspect of things, that she went to the trouble of approving a Special Master and splitting the costs to pay for Barbara Jones’ services, only to have PV demand more.

And here’s why that matters: as SDNY noted, Jones is as we speak making final decisions about what SDNY gets.

The Special Master’s responsiveness review has largely been completed, with the contents of only one device currently under review. The parties have submitted briefs outlining their positions regarding the law and principles that should be applied to the Movants’ objections to the release of the items that the Special Master has deemed responsive to the search warrants to the investigative team. 2

2 The Movants submitted their briefs to the Special Master on April 1, 2022, the Government submitted its response on April 13, 2022, and the Movants submitted a reply on April 20, 2022.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Project Veritas was, almost certainly, already preparing their briefing for Jones when they demanded this end-run around the Special Master process. They had, almost certainly, reviewed what was about to be turned over to SDNY and how, having read the affidavits that PV is still trying to get, Jones interpreted the scope of the investigation. So not only does this timing seem to substantiate SDNY’s claim they’re trying to back out of their demands for a Special Master, but it makes it likely that by the time they file their own reply two weeks from now — tick tock, tick tock — Jones will already have submitted her recommendations regarding what materials SDNY gets.

And until then, SDNY explained in their law school primer to PV about how the Fourth Amendment works in practice, SDNY gets to keep all the evidence implicating a criminal investigation until they decide whether or not to charge anyone.

To the contrary, the electronic devices retained by the Government were obtained pursuant to search warrants issued by a Magistrate Judge after a finding of probable cause, and are currently in the final stages of the Special Master’s review process. Similarly, the contents of email accounts were also obtained pursuant to search warrants issued by Magistrate Judges after findings of probable cause, and the Government’s review of materials obtained pursuant to those warrants was completed months ago. There can be no dispute that the Government’s investigation is ongoing, that these materials include evidence relevant to that investigation, and that, if a prosecution results from the investigation, these materials will have evidentiary value.

[snip]

Third, the Government’s retention of the items and materials at issue is reasonable because its investigation remains ongoing and the return of the property sought would impair the Government’s investigation. The electronic devices at issue either have been determined by the Special Master to contain responsive items, are currently under review by the Special Master, or have not yet been reviewed by the Special Master due to technical impediments. Similarly, the email account content has been reviewed by the Government and has been determined to contain material responsive to the search warrants. See, e.g., In re Search Warrants Executed on Apr. 28, 2021, 2021 WL 2188150, at *2 (denying pre-indictment motion to “return” to movants the “results from earlier search warrants of [movants’] iCloud and email accounts” because, among other reasons, “the review of the [earlier] warrant returns is now largely complete”). These items and materials are anticipated to have evidentiary value if a prosecution arises from the Government’s ongoing grand jury investigation. In light of the character of these items and materials and the status of the Government’s investigation, retention of the items and materials is reasonable at least until the Government’s investigation is completed or, in the event a prosecution arises from the investigation, until such time that the criminal case reaches its conclusion.

SDNY is not saying that a prosecution will arise from the materials seized from PV. But they are saying they’ve found evidence that would be relevant if they chose to do so.

And, SDNY repeats again in their primer on how the Fourth Amendment works, it’s only after SDNY makes that decision that James O’Keefe will have standing to challenge these searches.

Jeffrey Rosen Targeted Project Veritas’ Office Manager Long before Merrick Garland Targeted James O’Keefe

According to a recent NYT story, Project Veritas paid $50,000 to a former Mike Pence lawyer and House staffer, Mark Paoletta, to get members of Congress to push back against the criminal investigation into the rat-fucking organization.

After the criminal investigation into Project Veritas became public last fall, a prominent Republican lawyer who was lobbying on behalf of the organization and Mr. O’Keefe briefed a group of congressional Republicans on the case, to urge them to try to persuade the Justice Department to back off the investigation because the group did nothing wrong, according to a person briefed on the matter.

[snip]

Lobbying filings show that Mr. Paoletta was paid $50,000 during the last two months of last year to inform members of Congress about the F.B.I. raid on Mr. O’Keefe.

That’s really telling. After Project Veritas won a fight to get a Special Master appointed to review records seized in a raid on James O’Keefe and others last year, they balked at DOJ’s effort to make them foot the entire bill, telling a tale about their gritty “upstart journalism.”

The government argues that an upstart journalism organization with a current annual budget that recently hovers around $22 million is better suited to fund Special Master proceedings than a goliath arm of the U.S. government featuring a long-standing bloated budget, currently at $31.1 billion.2 The government’s demand that a press entity bear considerable financial burdens to defend against the government’s unconstitutional attack on a free press is corrosive to the First Amendment. The exercise of First Amendment rights is a guaranteed right, not a luxury subject to taxation at the government’s whim. Imposing daunting costs during the pendency of an investigation meant to resolve important First Amendment questions inflicts its own kind of abridgement. When exorbitant costs may be levied against the media simply for acting in accord with settled First Amendment precedent, the process becomes the punishment.

[snip]

For Project Veritas, an upstart journalism organization, each dollar spent on Special Master fees and expenses is a dollar not spent publishing news stories or investigating leads.

They won that fight and thus far, Special Master Barbara Jones has billed almost $40,000, which will be split 50-50.

It turns out, though, that PV’s claim that they would spend every cent saved on Special Master fees on what they euphemistically call “news stories,” was false. Instead, they were spending it to get Chuck Grassley (whose former top staffer Barbara Ledeen used to have close ties to PV), Jim Jordan, and other of the most corrupt Republicans to write letters to Merrick Garland complaining about “brazen and inconsistent standards” and “partisan or other improper motive.” (As we’ll see, it turns out they should have been complaining to Jeffrey Rosen.)

What’s interesting is those letters that Barbara Ledeen’s former boss and Jim Jordan and Ron Johnson signed all suggest they took their understanding of PV’s actions entirely from the public record. They cite news articles.

Congress was told that Don Jr was involved before the stupidest Republicans wrote to complain

Not so, as reported by the NYT. Paoletta apparently knew — and shared — details that had not yet been reported by the press. Paoletta knew of a September 6, 2020 fundraiser held by Elizabeth Fago and attended by Don Jr where Ashley Biden’s diary — allegedly stolen — was passed around.

In August, Ms. Harris reached out to Robert Kurlander, a friend who had been sentenced to 40 months in prison in the 1990s on a federal fraud charge and had expressed anti-Biden sentiments online, to say she had found the diary. The two believed they could sell it, allowing Ms. Harris to help pay for the lawyers representing her in the custody dispute.

New details from interviews and documents have further fleshed out what happened next. Mr. Kurlander contacted Elizabeth Fago, the Trump donor who would host the fund-raiser attended by Donald Trump Jr. When first told of the diary, Ms. Fago said she thought it would help Mr. Trump’s chances of winning the election, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Richard G. Lubin, a lawyer for Ms. Fago, declined to comment.

On Sept. 3, Ms. Fago’s daughter alerted Project Veritas about the diary through its tip line.

Three days later, Ms. Harris and Mr. Kurlander — with the diary in hand — attended the fund-raiser attended by Donald Trump Jr. at Ms. Fago’s house in Jupiter, Fla., to see whether the president’s re-election campaign might be interested in it. While there, Mr. Kurlander showed others the diary. It is unclear who saw it.

It appears that Paoletta had originally been told — and told members of Congress — that Don Jr advocated calling the FBI, only to follow up to express uncertainty about that point.

The lawyer, Mark Paoletta, said that upon learning about the diary at the fund-raiser, Donald Trump Jr. showed no interest in it and said that whoever was in possession of it should report it to the F.B.I. But shortly thereafter Mr. Paoletta, who had served as Vice President Mike Pence’s top lawyer in the White House, called back the congressional Republicans to say he was unsure whether the account about Donald Trump Jr.’s reaction was accurate.

We know from past history, Don Jr doesn’t call the FBI when offered dirt on an opponent. Instead, he says “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially closer to the election.”

Project Veritas was willing to pay $50,000 to tell members of Congress that this crime might impact powerful fundraisers (Fago was named on the PV warrants) and the former President’s son, but didn’t want to foot the full bill for a Special Master.

SDNY always gets emails before they do an overt search

The fact that PV told members of Congress that this involved the former President’s son explains why PV is so pissed upon discovering what has been obvious to me from the start: That before obtaining warrants to seize James O’Keefe’s phones, DOJ had first obtained emails that provided the evidence to get the warrants for his phones.

The Government disclosed many of its covert investigative steps in the ex parte context of the Affidavit, including each email search warrant it had obtained pursuant to the SCA in this investigation.

This is precisely what SDNY did with Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani, and it’s what Magistrate Judge Sarah Cave was talking about when she referred to the “considerable detail” in the affidavit.

Third, the Court has reviewed the Materials in camera and observes that they contain considerable detail about individuals who may have already provided information to the Government—voluntarily or involuntarily—such that unsealing of the Materials “could subject [them] to witness tampering, harassment, or retaliation.”

PV revealed that in a motion asking Judge Analisa Torres to claw back this information.

The government apparently disdains the free press, and candor to the Court and opposing counsel. In light of the government’s violations of Project Veritas’s First Amendment, journalistic, and attorney-client privileges, as well as the government’s attendant failure to disclose these matters before or during the litigation of our motion for appointment of a Special Master, Project Veritas requests that this Court, pursuant to its supervisory powers, inherent authority, and Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(g), enter an Order requiring the government to:

(1) immediately halt access, review, and investigative use of Project Veritas materials that the government obtained from Microsoft (cf. November 12, 2021 Order acknowledging pause in government extraction and review of James O’Keefe’s mobile devices);

(2) inform this Court and counsel whether the government used a filter team to conduct a review of the data it seized from Microsoft on the basis of both attorney-client and journalistic privileges;

(3) inform this Court and counsel of the identities of any prosecutors, agents, or other members of the investigative team who have reviewed any data seized from Microsoft, what data they reviewed, and when they reviewed it; and

(4) disclose to the Court and counsel the identity of any other third party to which the government issued demands for Project Veritas data under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) with or without a non-disclosure order.

This interim relief is necessary to avoid compounding the harm to Project Veritas caused by the government’s violations of law and principles of candor and to enable Project Veritas to seek appropriate further relief.

I’ve put the dates of these warrants below; those dates and targets totally undermine everything PV has been complaining about.

PV has been complaining about “journalists” when DOJ first found evidence of a crime from their office manager

That’s because the first person targeted at PV was their “human resources” manager; that may be a reference to Jennifer Kiyak, who is named in the warrant targeting O’Keefe but listed on Project Veritas Exposed as PV’s Office Manager.

An office manager would have been the one to arrange payment of $40,000, and by getting her emails and — given that the FBI first targeted her in a subscriber record, may have been traced backwards from contacts with Ms. Biden — DOJ probably obtained plenty of evidence that the “journalists” had done far more than journalism.

Moreover, the first warrant to get “journalists'” emails was obtained while Jeffrey Rosen was Acting Attorney General, and all but one of these warrants for email (the one against O’Keefe) were obtained before Merrick Garland was confirmed. All of these email warrants were obtained before Garland imposed his new media guidelines, guidelines that Billy Barr’s DOJ never adhered to.

In other words, PV has been complaining for months that Merrick Garland targeted “journalists” when in fact they should be complaining that Jeffrey Rosen targeted someone who would, in no way, under any administration, be covered by media guidelines.

DOJ tells PV to hold their complaints until they are indicted

DOJ’s response to PV’s wails (which I wrote up in more detail here) is genuinely hysterical. They say, over and over, that PV can wait until they’re indicted to challenge these warrants.

Movants can raise these issues if there is an indictment filed charging them in connection with the investigation,

[snip]

The materials referenced by the Movants were obtained pursuant to duly authorized legal process that are not subject to challenge by the Movants in this pre-indictment stage.

[snip]

Second, the Movants seek pre-indictment discovery regarding the process used to review the materials referenced by the Movants, the identities of those who participated in that process, and the identities of third parties on which other legal process may have been served in the course of the investigation.

[snip]

To the extent the Movants may potentially be entitled at some point to the disclosures that they seek, any such entitlement would only be triggered, if at all, by the filing of an indictment charging them in connection with the investigation, and not before.2 In the event of a criminal proceeding, as Judge Oetken noted, they would have the opportunity to litigate any privilege or suppression issues, but they cannot do so during the pre-indictment phase of an ongoing grand jury investigation.

They acknowledge that PV would love to know who or what else has been investigated.

Of course, the Movants, like any subjects of a federal grand jury investigation, would like to know about every investigative step the Government is taking during the course of a criminal investigation, but that is not the law, for good reason.

No doubt so would Don Jr.

It also suggested there are other aspects of this investigation that DOJ is keeping secret.

The Government refrained from publicly disclosing details of the investigation, and continues to do so, for the same reasons that this Court denied production to the Movants of the affidavit (the “Affidavit”) submitted in support of the issuance of the search warrant dated November 5, 2021 that is the focus of this Part I matter and that Judge Cave ruled should remain sealed: to protect the ongoing grand jury investigation.

Keep in mind, there are necessarily other warrants out there that list other crimes, such as ones involving Harris and Kurlander that would name theft itself. In fact, the first order targeting PV mentions 18 USC 873 — blackmail.

Which means we can’t rule out that the nomination of Fago to the National Cancer Advisory Board a month after the election might be under investigation too.

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.

2020

June: Ashley Biden moves to Philadelphia.

July: Aimee Harris moves into space formerly occupied by Ms. Biden.

August: Harris reaches out to fraudster Robert Kurlander, who contacts Elizabeth Fago.

September 3: Stephanie Walczak offers diary to PV.

September 6: Diary is shared at a fundraiser attended by Jr.

Mid-September: Kurlander and Harris fly to NY with the diary.  Spencer Meads travels to Florida and Harris shows more of Ms. Biden’s belongings.

Early October: A PV operative calls Ms. Biden and claims he wants to return the diary; PV takes her agreement as confirmation the diary is hers.

October 12: O’Keefe sends email, not mentioning Ms. Biden by name (but clearly referring to her) explaining his decision not to publish “Sting Ray” Story.

October 16: PV calls Joe Biden to extort an interview.

Late October: PV pays $40,000 for the diary.

October 25: National File publishes pages from Ashely Biden’s diary, linking parallel New York Post campaign targeting Hunter. It explains the provenance of the diary this way:

National File also knows the reported precise location of the physical diary, and has been told by a whistleblower that there exists an audio recording of Ashley Biden admitting this is her diary.

[snip]

National File obtained this document from a whistleblower who was concerned the media organization that employs him would not publish this potential critical story in the final 10 days before the 2020 presidential election. National File’s whistleblower also has a recording of Ashley Biden admitting the diary is hers, and employed a handwriting expert who verified the pages were all written by Ashley. National File has in its posession a recording of this whistleblower detailing the work his media outlet did in preparation of releasing these documents. In the recording, the whistleblower explains that the media organization he works for chose not to release the documents after receiving pressure from a competing media organization.

November 3: PV provides the diary to local law enforcement in FL.

November 22: DOJ uses subpoena for subscriber information of PV’s Human Resources Manager.

November 24: DOJ obtains 2703(d) order for HR manager’s email headers from 9/1/2020 to present.

December 8: Fago appointed to National Cancer Advisory Board.

2021

January 14: DOJ obtains warrant for emails of Eric Cochran, Spencer Meads, and HR manager from 1/1/20 through present.

January 26: DOJ obtains warrant for emails from another PV “journalist” from 1/1/20 through present.

March 5: DOJ obtains warrant for emails of three other PV “journalists” from 1/1/20 through 12/1/20.

March 9: DOJ obtains email headers for additional PV “journalist” from 9/1/20 through 12/1/20.

April 9: DOJ obtains warrant for O’Keefe’s emails from 9/1/20 through 12/1/20.

October 26: Paul Calli call DOJ, asks for AUSA Mitzi Steiner, and asked to speak about the PV investigation; Steiner asked how Calli had obtained her name, what else he had obtained, and declined to speak with Calli.

October 27: Lawyers for Project Veritas inform the DOJ that they will accept service for a subpoena relating to the investigation

November 3, 3:49 PM: Search warrants for Eric Cochran and Spencer Meads approved.

November 4, AM: FBI executes search warrants on former PV employees, Cochran and Spencer Meads.

November 4: PV lawyers accept service of subpoena.

November 4, one hour after the search: Mike Schmidt reaches out to Cochran and O’Keefe for comment about the investigation.

November 5, 11:18 AM: Warrant for O’Keefe authorized

November 5: NYT publishes story on investigation including language that PV would later baseless claim had to have come from the FBI.

November 6: FBI executes a search warrant on James O’Keefe

November 6: Schmidt contacts O’Keefe for comment.

November 6: Lawyers for Project Veritas ask the FBI to sequester material from the phone.

November 7: DOJ declines PV’s request and states the FBI has complied with all media guidelines.

November 8, 6:11PM: DOJ emails PV and tells them the extraction may start as soon as the next day.

November 8: After PV says it’ll file a legal challenge, FBI says it’ll only stop extraction after PV files such a challenge.

November 10: On behalf of PV, Calli Law moves to appoint a Special Master.

November 11, 12:51-12:53AM: Calli asks for confirmation that DOJ stopped extraction and review on O’Keefe’s phone on November 8.

November 11, 7:57AM: DOJ responds that the substantive review of O’Keefe’s phone was paused upon filing of motion on November 10.

November 11; 2:13PM: Judge Analisa Torres sets initial briefing schedule; in response to Torres order, DOJ stops extraction of O’Keefe phone.

November 12: In response to DOJ request, Torres extends briefing schedule.

November 12: Greenberg Traurig lawyer Adam Hoffinger, representing Eric Cochran, asks for Special Master to apply to materials seized from him, as well.

November 12: Letter signed by FL attorney Brian Dickerson but apparently docketed by NY lawyer Eric Franz asks for Special Master to apply to Spencer Meads

November 12, 3:49PM: Calli asks for clarification on review and extraction.

November 12, 3:59PM: DOJ responds that, “upon the filing of your motion, the Government paused the review of all material obtained from the search of your  client’s residence.”

November 14: Calli submits clarification letter regarding extraction and review.

November 15: Torres sets schedule in Cochran docket.

November 15: DOJ requests permission to reply to PV on November 19.

November 15: Calli requests inquiry into government leaks to NYT.

November 16: Torres grants permission to respond on November 19.

November 16: Ian H. Marcus Amelkin asks to delete initials of PV source, A.H., from docket.

November 17: Torres denies Amelkin request without prejudice.

November 17: Cochran motion to appoint Special Master.

November 18: For Meads, Dickerson formally moves for Special Master (and also complains that FBI seized dated devices).

November 19: Calli requests extension on response deadline for PV subpoena.

November 19: Government files opposition to request for Special Master and inquiry into purported leaks.

November 19: DOJ requests permission to respond to motion for extension on subpoena. Torres grants request.

November 21: DOJ opposition to extend subpoena deadline.

November 21: Government motion to oppose unsealing affidavits.

November 22: Torres denies motion for extension on subpoena.

November 22: PV reply to government opposition to Special Master.

November 23: Torres denies motion (including from RCFP) to unseal affidavits.

November 23: Cochran reply to government opposition to unseal affidavits.

November 24: Meads reply to refusal to unseal affidavits, including letters from House and Senate complaining to DOJ.

How SDNY Came to Treat James O’Keefe Better than Former SDNY US Attorney Rudy Giuliani

It has been a week since Judge Analisa Torres appointed Barbara Jones as Special Master to review materials seized from James O’Keefe and two other Project Veritas figures, and prosecutors from the Southern District of New York have not made any public complaint to the terms of her order. So I’d like to emphasize what SDNY found tolerable in the Project Veritas matter as compared to the search of Rudy Giuliani’s phone.

These are the instructions Judge Torres issued for the Special Master review of Project Veritas’ devices.

  1. The Government shall complete extraction of the materials from Petitioners’ devices. The Government shall provide the extracted materials to the Special Master.
  2. The Special Master shall expeditiously conduct an initial review of the extracted materials to determine what materials are responsive to the search warrants. To assist with the Special Master’s review, the Government shall provide the Special Master, on an ex parte basis, with a copy of the search warrants executed on Petitioners, the underlying application materials for those search warrants, and any other information that will assist the Special Master in conducting her review. If the Special Master determines that the efficient administration of her duties requires the assistance of additional professionals, support staff, or expert consultants, she may submit a work proposal to the parties, who will have five business days to submit comments, after which time the Special Master may then submit the proposal to the Court for consideration.
  3. Materials deemed to be responsive to the search warrants shall be provided by the Special Master to the filter team, which shall be walled off from the investigative team working on matters related to the investigation that is the subject of the search warrants or any investigation related to Petitioners.
  4. The filter team shall conduct a review of the responsive materials to determine if any should be withheld from the investigative team on any grounds—including grounds related to any First Amendment concerns, journalistic privileges, and attorney-client privileges.
  5. After the filter team conducts its review, Petitioners shall review the materials slated to be released to the investigative team and raise any objections. The Special Master shall rule on any objections and provide the proper materials to the investigative team. [my emphasis]

Effectively, SDNY will provide Jones all the contents of O’Keefe’s phones. She will then do a responsiveness review to identify the material responsive to the warrants targeting O’Keefe. That material will then go to an FBI filter team, which will review it for privilege. After that, PV will get to review the materials to raise objections (with no limit on the objections identified, though presumably these would be based on privilege). Jones will then rule on those objections and provide whatever she deems appropriate to the investigators.

That approach offers PV far more protection than the President’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani is getting. In the Special Master review of materials seized from the former SDNY US Attorney, Judge Paul Oetken ordered Jones to conduct an initial privilege review.

The Special Master shall render decisions regarding privilege issues relating to the materials seized in the execution of certain search warrants dated April 21, 2021, and April 28, 2021, and executed on April 28, 2021 (the “Seized Materials”). The specific duties of the Special Master are as follows and shall include all powers necessary to carry out these duties:

a. Conducting an initial privilege review of the Seized Materials and adjudicating privilege disputes between the parties;

The parties then had a debate about the sheer scope of the seized materials. As part of that, SDNY agreed to limit the temporal range of Jones’ review to documents that date between January 1, 2018 and the date of execution in April 2021. But SDNY argued that there’s no basis for a Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review.

The Letters conflate the scope of the Special Master’s review for privileged material with the scope of the Government’s eventual review for material responsive to the Warrants. The Letters present extensive argument concerning only the latter, yet seek relief concerning the former. That is, the Letters contend that the Government’s search for responsive materials must conform to certain limits, then leap from that conclusion to request limits on the Special Master’s initial screening for privileged items. (See Giuliani Let. 4-24 (arguing Government can review only materials dated August 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019); id. at 1, 25 (requesting order that Special Master review only materials from the same period)). The Letters thus ask the Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review: To identify and withhold from Government investigators documents that are in no way privileged, based on a determination that they fall outside the scope of the Warrants. Neither the Warrants, nor this Court’s order appointing the Special Master, contemplate that an arm of the Court, rather than Government investigators, would conduct such a review. (See, e.g., Dkt. 25 (order appointing Special Master)). The Letters’ attempt to limit the materials to which investigators will have access thus appears to be an attempt to relitigate Giuliani’s and Toensing’s meritless efforts to limit the search contemplated by the Warrants ex ante, which this Court already rejected. (See Dkt. 20 at 3-6 (Court rejecting motions for pre-charge (indeed, pre-search) suppression and return of property)). [my emphasis]

Ultimately, Judge Oetken agreed with SDNY, ruling — in an order that preceded Torres’ and therefore which SDNY could have pointed to as a precedent — that there is no legal authority mandating a Special Master review for responsiveness, rather than privilege.

Second, the warrants themselves do not contemplate that an arm of the Court, rather than Government investigators, would conduct a review of the warrant materials for responsiveness, nor is the Court aware of any legal authority mandating such review. To be sure, as the Government acknowledges, the warrants must be executed according to their terms. But the fact that the Court has appointed a Special Master for privilege review in this circumstance does not dictate that such review be expanded to review for responsiveness.

As Jones has made clear in one of her few public reports in the Rudy review thus far, for the files from this time period over which Rudy (or Victoria Toensing or Dmitry Firtash) don’t claim privilege, they’ll all go to the FBI.

These seven devices contain 2,226 items in total dated on or after January 1, 2018. Mr. Giuliani designated 3 items as privileged, and I am reserving decision on those 3 items. The remaining 2,223 items have been released to the Government.

From there, FBI (with no filter team) will do a responsiveness review for the Ukrainian foreign influence peddling investigation and for any other warrants DOJ has happened to obtain targeting Rudy’s phones.

A recent Oetken order makes clear that, eight months after the seizure of these files, we’ll soon see some privilege battles take place in semi-public form, with description of the content of the materials sealed, but not the basis for privilege claims. At this point in the Michael Cohen fight, Trump chose not to fight privilege claims on some crime-fraud excepted communications, most notably pertaining to his hush payments.

The effect of these two reviews will be dramatically different. In PV’s case, only those materials pertinent to the alleged theft of Ashley Biden’s diary will ever become available to the FBI, and even after the FBI filter team does a privilege review, PV will have an opportunity to argue for withholding that material from DOJ. While this process might result in slightly more materials being shared with investigators than might have happened in response to a subpoena (and would have had the effect of limiting any data destruction), it gives PV something close to an opportunity to suppress evidence pre-charge. The review will also ensure that DOJ does not obtain evidence that might otherwise implicate PV, such as the way it permits “donors” to influence the timing of particular “reporting” campaigns.

Whereas, as I’ve laid out before, DOJ will have the ability to obtain materials from Rudy responsive to the Lev Parnas-associated investigation, as well as anything that might be responsive to warrants investigating other crimes, including (but not limited to) his role in Trump’s obstruction of the Mueller investigation and his role in Trump’s attempted coup.

It’s not like SDNY — nicknamed “Sovereign District” for their aggressiveness — to cede a legal point without a fight. But here, having just prevailed on the principle that there’s no legal basis for a Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review, they let a decision stand ordering a Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review, and only after that, to review FBI’s own privilege determinations.

The two different approaches may reflect not so much legal principle, but the relative goals of the prosecutorial teams and/or DOJ’s priorities. PV got its surrogates in Congress — and even tried to solicit Democratic support — for its claims that its extortion-like behavior is a journalistic function. Effectively, accepting a Special Master responsiveness review resets this matter close to where it would have been if PV was genuinely accommodating the subpoena in good faith (as it wasn’t, before the seizure). It also may be the case, however, that SDNY has reason to know what they’re looking for are Signal or Telegram texts involving O’Keefe personally, with the expectation that they’ll get other responsive documents via the subpoena.

That SDNY was so willing to accept the PV result, though, highlights how aggressively they fought to defeat any responsiveness review with Rudy. Their argument against a Special Master review for responsiveness, with a subject whose files are among the most sensitive imaginable, is precisely what makes those materials available for other possible investigations. That was a fight that SDNY — and Merrick Garland’s DOJ — was willing to make, and a fight they won.

Somehow and for some reason, the President’s former lawyer is being treated less favorably by his former office than your garden variety rat-fucker. The reasons why that might be bear some consideration.

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

Citing “Considerable Detail” in Affidavits, Judge Denies Bid to Unseal Project Veritas Warrants

Magistrate judge Sarah Cave just denied a bid by the Reporter’s Committee for the Freedom of the Press to unseal the warrant affidavits targeting James O’Keefe and other Project Veritas personnel.While she rejected the government’s claim there was an exemption for warrant applications in ongoing criminal investigations, she found that a balancing test supported the government’s bid to keep the affidavits secret.

Of particular note, Cave conducted an in camera review of the affidavit and determined that there was so much information about individuals who, “voluntarily or involuntarily,” had provided information for the investigation, releasing the affidavits would thwart cooperation in the investigation.

Third, the Court has reviewed the Materials in camera and observes that they contain considerable detail about individuals who may have already provided information to the Government—voluntarily or involuntarily—such that unsealing of the Materials “could subject [them] to witness tampering, harassment, or retaliation.” In re Sealed Search Warrants Issued June 4 & 5, 2008, 2008 WL 5667021 at *4; see Amodeo II, 71 F.3d at 1050 (noting that if the confidentiality of cooperating witnesses “cannot be assured, cooperation will not be forthcoming”); Smith 985 F. Supp. 2d at 531–32 (noting that disclosure of search warrant materials would undermine ongoing investigation by, inter alia “officially confirm[ing] who some of the cooperating witnesses in these investigations are,” which “could lead to efforts by [the targets of the investigation] to frustrate the ongoing investigations”). Release of the information in the Materials “is likely to cause persons in [this] or future cases to resist involvement where cooperation is desirable,” and thereby undermine law enforcement interests. Amodeo II, 71 F.3d at 1050.

Cave describes that “the Materials include references to a number of individuals employed by or associated with Project Veritas. Their conduct in relation to the alleged criminal activity is described in considerable detail, although not all of that conduct may be criminal.”

Cave also determined that, because of the amount of detail the government obtained  there was no way to redact the names in the affidavit to make it available that way.

Finally, the Court has carefully examined the Materials to determine whether redactions would be sufficient to protect the countervailing interests that outweigh the presumption of public access, and concludes that “no portion of those documents may be unsealed without compromising the interest in the integrity and security of the [I]nvestigation” and the privacy interests of third parties. In re Sealed Search Warrants Issued June 4 & 5, 2008, 2008 WL 5667021, at *5. As noted above, the Materials contain not only the legal theories of the Investigation, but also details about the information the Government has obtained and from which sources. The nature and extent of any possible redactions to omit this information would “render[] unintelligible” the contents of the Materials, and could be “more likely to mislead than to inform the public” in the way that RCFP predicts. Amodeo II, 71 F.3d at 1052. Accordingly, the Court concludes that unsealing the Materials, “even in redacted form, cannot be accomplished at this stage without serious risk to the [I]nvestigation,” and they must therefore remain sealed at this time. In re Sealed Search Warrant Issued June 4 & 5, 2008, 2008 WL 5667021, at *5

We’ll have to wait to see what the government’s case is or was against Project Veritas.

But it sounds like there’s a good deal behind these warrants.

Sting Ray: Project Veritas’ Schrodinger’s Proxy

According to a court filing submitted on behalf of Spencer Meads, one of the former Project Veritas staffers whose phones were seized by the FBI on November 4, the circumstances that led to PV obtaining Ashley Biden’s diary started no earlier than August 2020.

Under any stretch of the imagination, the period relevant to the diary investigation does not pre-date August 2020.

[snip]

[A]ll events relating to the Government’s diary investigation began no earlier than August 2020. Accordingly, none of the work that Mr. Meads performed on behalf of Project Veritas before August 2020 – including newsgathering information and other information stored on his electronic devices before August 2020 – could have any possible relevance to or bearing whatsoever on the Government’s diary investigation.

The government appears to agree. The timeline for the warrant served on Meads (and Eric Cochran, the other former PV staffer searched that same day) starts on August 1, 2020.

August 2020 is when, according to the filing from Meads, PV first learned of the diary.

Project Veritas first became aware of the diary’s existence in August 2020 when Source 1 and Source 2 contacted Project Veritas through a proxy. PV Motion at p. 3. Just as Project Veritas and Mr. O’Keefe had never heard of Source 1 or Source 2 before this communication, Mr. Meads also had never heard of them. Nevertheless, Source 1 and Source 2 represented to Project Veritas that they were in possession of Ms. Biden’s diary, which they claimed Ms. Biden had left abandoned at a house located in Delray Beach, Florida. Id. Mr. Meads and Project Veritas had absolutely no involvement with how Source 1 and Source 2 acquired possession of the diary. [my emphasis]

The filing Meads cites to in that passage — PV’s original request for a Special Master — actually doesn’t provide that date. On the contrary, PV’s original filing is squishy about the date.

Earlier in 2020, two individuals – R.K. and A.H. – contacted Project Veritas through a proxy. Prior to this contact, neither James O’Keefe nor anyone at Project Veritas knew or had even heard of R.K. and A.H. [my emphasis]

That’s interesting, because a later PV filing insinuates that they first learned of the diary when a “tipster” called and left them a voicemail (a voicemail which would be responsive to the subpoena DOJ already served on PV) to let them know about it on September 3.

On or about September 3, 2020, a tipster called news outlet Project Veritas and left a voice mail. In the voice mail, the tipster indicated that a new occupant moved into a place where Ashley Biden had previously been staying and found Ms. Biden’s diary and other personal items: “[T]he diary is pretty crazy. I think it’s worth taking a look at.” Communications with the source (the new occupant) who found Ashley Biden’s abandoned diary and other abandoned items ensued. Project Veritas learned that Ashley Biden’s other abandoned personal effects in the sources’ possession included an overnight bag with the “B. Biden Foundation” logo and miscellaneous personal items. The source who found Ms. Biden’s abandoned diary and another source brought the diary to Project Veritas in New York. The sources arranged to meet the Project Veritas journalist in Florida soon thereafter to give the journalist additional abandoned items.

PV seems to be erasing up to a month of events that Meads seems to know about, including how PV first learned of the diary. It is also obfuscating the different roles here — “the tipster,” “the source,” “another source,” and “the Project Veritas journalist.”

The temporal discrepancy may have to do with that proxy referenced by Meads. Meads says the first PV learned about it was via a proxy. PV implies, in that recent filing, that they didn’t learn about the diary until receiving a voicemail in September. But as noted, the first PV filing also acknowledged the role of the proxy, even though it focused all its attention on the purported sources, R.K. and A.H., with no discussion of when or how the proxy got involved, or who that proxy was. Here’s a longer version of that passage:

When National File published 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. Id. No Project Veritas employee had authority to, or was directed to, provide the diary to National File. Nor to provide it to anyone else. Project Veritas had no involvement in National File’s publication of the diary and had no advance knowledge that National File intended to publish it.

Earlier in 2020, two individuals – R.K. and A.H. – contacted Project Veritas through a proxy. Prior to this contact, neither James O’Keefe nor anyone at Project Veritas knew or had even heard of R.K. and A.H. Those two individuals represented that they had material (including a diary) that Ashley Biden had abandoned at a house where she had been staying in Delray Beach, Florida. Project Veritas had no involvement with how those two individuals acquired the diary. All of Project Veritas’s knowledge about how R.K. and A.H. came to possess the diary came from R.K. and A.H. themselves.

R.K. and A.H. through their lawyers requested payment from Project Veritas for contributing the diary for potential publication. As described by these individuals, the diary appeared to be newsworthy. R.K. and A.H.’s lawyers negotiated an arm’s length agreement with two of Project Veritas’s in-house lawyers, wherein R.K. and A.H. reaffirmed that they had come to possess the diary lawfully. Pursuant to that agreement, R.K. and A.H delivered the diary and other materials reportedly abandoned by Ms. Biden to Project Veritas.

In the more recent filing, PV seems to address the role of the proxy almost 4,000 words after it suggests that the first it learned of the diary was that voice mail. Nine pages into the reply, PV’s lawyers reveal they have “interviewed” the “the individuals [plural] who steered the sources who found the abandoned diary” and complain that the government has not yet done so.

As our own investigation continues, we have learned that the government has deliberately avoided learning information that disproves its false theory that Project Veritas was somehow involved in a “theft.” The undersigned have interviewed the individuals who steered the sources who found the abandoned diary and other abandoned personal items, to Project Veritas (including the tipster who left the voice mail for Project Veritas on or about September 3, 2020). Astonishingly, the government has not interviewed these individuals, despite knowing their identities and listing them by name in the documents. From an investigative standpoint, the government’s choice not to interview them is inexplicable. The only possible explanation is that the government wishes to remain willfully blind or deliberately ignorant and avoid obtaining evidence inconsistent with its false theory that Project Veritas was involved in the theft of the diary and other materials. The sources told those individuals, just as they told Project Veritas, that the diary and other items were abandoned by Ashley Biden in a place where she had been staying while undergoing rehabilitation treatment.

The description that the documents “list [these people] by name” suggests they are the suspected co-conspirators whose names appear (but are redacted in publicly released versions of) the warrants.

Of course, a far more obvious explanation why the government hasn’t interviewed these people is that they’re suspects in a criminal investigation.

In any case, after having spoken with “the individuals who steered the sources who found the abandoned diary” and confirmed those people were still going to claim the diary was found, not stolen, PV obscured the role of the proxy.

There’s at least one more way that PV’s story is inconsistent. The original PV filing explains that it did not publish the diary because it could not sufficiently authenticate it. And only after making that decision, PV claims, did it first try to return the diary to Ashley Biden’s lawyer, and then transfer the diary back across state lines to give it to local law enforcement in FL.

Project Veritas conducted due diligence to determine if the diary was authentic and investigated the potential news story. After significant deliberation, Project Veritas decided not to publish the diary and not to run any news story about it. 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.

The later PV filing describes the question of authenticity as one limited to whether Ms. Biden’s attorney confirmed it was hers.

When Ashley Biden’s lawyer would not confirm her client’s ownership of the found items provided to Project Veritas, the news outlet arranged, on or about November 3, 2020, for the items to be delivered to state law enforcement in Florida, in the jurisdiction in which the source informed Project Veritas it originally found the abandoned items.

PV notes that it turned over the diary to Florida law enforcement on November 3, without noting that that was Election Day, after which point the diary would be of no further use in swaying the election.

Much later in the filing, PV references an email that James O’Keefe sent on October 12, 2020, explaining why he wasn’t going to publish it (which, given the timing, may have led “a whistleblower” to share it with National File). PV claims that it did so because the “sordid nature of the diary’s contents” required a higher threshold for authentication, and presents this decision as proof that PV is not a political spy firm (which, particularly given the headfake PV did on complying with a subpoena, is irrelevant to some of the First Amendment issues).

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:

[snip]

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.

That’s not what the email said. It said that PV was utterly convinced the diary was genuine, but not the allegations in it (a heavily-edited video of a sweaty O’Keefe released this November 5, after the first searches, also said they couldn’t confirm whether the “contents” of the diary “occurred”).

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. [italics original, bold mine]

More importantly, O’Keefe warned of harm to PV if they were to publish. PV doesn’t back off publication because of controversy, that’s what it sells. Which raises questions about what harm to PV that O’Keefe knew others would understand, without further explanation.

Before I get into that, few points about this email. First, note the way that O’Keefe doesn’t mention Ms. Biden by name (though makes it clear that’s what the reference was to). One possible explanation for that is that lawyers coached him to avoid using it. But by publishing the email, PV gave prosecutors reason to insist that mere keyword searches will not be an adequate way to respond to the subpoena, as a search on “Ashley Biden” would not return this email. Also note the typeface irregularities, which is possibly nothing more than bolding of the substantive part of it. That will lead prosecutors to want an electronic copy of this, to understand whether the alternate typeface was cut-and-pasted from somewhere. There are also pngs attached (which may just be the footers), which will be another thing prosecutors will rightly want to see an electronic copy of. O’Keefe has claimed to have privileged relationships with 45 lawyers, yet that mob has already twice succeeded in giving the government justification to ask for more expansive searches.

Other details about the diary may explain why O’Keefe was worried about harm to PV. PV never acknowledges that it turned the diary over to law enforcement only after National File claimed to know the precise location of the diary and know of an audio recording of Ashley Biden admitting the diary was hers.

National File also knows the reported precise location of the physical diary, and has been told by a whistleblower that there exists an audio recording of Ashley Biden admitting this is her diary.

[snip]

National File obtained this document from a whistleblower who was concerned the media organization that employs him would not publish this potential critical story in the final 10 days before the 2020 presidential election. National File’s whistleblower also has a recording of Ashley Biden admitting the diary is hers, and employed a handwriting expert who verified the pages were all written by Ashley. National File has in its posession [sic] a recording of this whistleblower detailing the work his media outlet did in preparation of releasing these documents. In the recording, the whistleblower explains that the media organization he works for chose not to release the documents after receiving pressure from a competing media organization.

PV wouldn’t need confirmation from Ms. Biden’s attorney if they had a recording, via whatever means, of her admitting that it was hers. Unless that recording was itself criminal or for some other reason impossible to acknowledge. Then they would need something more. They tried to get something more — confirmation from Ms. Biden’s attorney — and after the attorney refused, they turned the diary over to law enforcement.

And that’s interesting because the substance of communications with Ms. Biden, her attorney, and her father are among the things, the warrants describe, that SDNY is seeking. Among other things (including the communications with suspected co-conspirators like the proxy), they’re looking for:

  • 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 regarding the value of Ashley Biden’s stolen property, such as communications about the resale or market value of any of the items stolen from her, or any plans ot sell or market the same.
  • 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.

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.

It could still be the case that SDNY’s investigative steps are inappropriate, even if they have PV dead to rights participating in the theft of the diary.

But all these discrepancies sure make PV’s claims to be uninvolved less convincing.

Especially given the way lawyers for Meads — the former PV staffer who seems to know that that September 3, 2020 call is not the first that PV heard of the diary — torque a precedent from a different circuit pertaining to someone who didn’t learn about a source until after an illegal recording, to claim that even a journalist actively involved in a crime to obtain documents cannot be prosecuted.

While the Government attempts to draw a distinction between passive and active involvement in allegedly unlawful activities relating to obtaining Ms. Biden’s diary (see Opposition at pp. 3-4), this distinction makes no difference from a legal standpoint. Simply put, it makes no difference whatsoever whether the nature of Meads’ involvement was passive or active. In Jean v. Massachusetts State Police, 492 F. 3d 24 (1st Cir. 2007), the plaintiff was a political activist who obtained and posted on her website a copy of a video recording that was made in violation of the Massachusetts electronic interception statute. Id. at 25-26. When the police threatened to charge the plaintiff with a felony unless she abided by its cease and desist demand, the plaintiff obtained injunctive relief in federal district court. Id. at 26. The Government argued that the plaintiff “assisted, conspired, or served as an accessory to [the recorder’s] violation . . .” and, further, that the plaintiff’s “active collaboration with [the recorder] . . . made his unlawful dissemination possible in the first instance.”

[snip]

Additionally, the Government’s incorrect argument that “active involvement” by a journalist somehow eviscerates First Amendment protections for legitimate newsgathering materials does not held that the First Amendment protects news organizations from punishment where they publish information obtained lawfully from a third party. Bartnicki, 532 U.S. at 535. This holding does not support the Government’s position that First Amendment protection is unavailable to journalists who have involvement in unlawful conduct that is the subject of a Government investigation.

The facts of Jean v. MA may match the story that Meads and PV are telling about the diary, but they don’t match what the government clearly alleges behind some redactions: that PV had a role in the actual theft. And Meads seems to overstate the involvement of Jean in the illegal recording so as to make a claim that journalists cannot be investigated for a crime committed while reporting. It’s an interesting legal argument to feel you need to make, especially if you know what led up to a seemingly exculpatory voicemail that PV now purports to be the start of this story.

Update: One detail that should get more attention is that the diary in question dates to 2019 and ends with a period when Ms. Biden was in rehab or something. Its earliest entry is dated January 25, 2019 and the final entry was dated September 18, 2019. To suggest, as PV and others have, that it was found at the rehab facility is to claim that the diary went unnoticed for 11 months.

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.

Parallel Tracks: Project Veritas Served on Their Subpoena Stance

There’s a temporal problem in Project Veritas’ initial motion to appoint a Special Master to sort through materials seized from James O’Keefe in a search on November 6.

In one place, it described that, “At 6:00 AM on Saturday, November 6, 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) executed a search warrant at Mr. O’Keefe’s home.” In another, it described that, “On November 5, 2021, at approximately 6:00 AM, the FBI executed search warrants at the homes of two former Project Veritas journalists, seizing their cell phones and other electronic devices.” But the very next paragraph describes that the O’Keefe search happened two days after the initial search: “Approximately two days later, the FBI executed a search warrant at the home of James O’Keefe.” Then, the letter describes that, “on November 4, 2021 – two days before its search of Mr. O’Keefe’s home — the undersigned had accepted service of a grand jury subpoena directed to Project Veritas.” Shortly thereafter, the letter says the earlier search happened on November 4, not November 5. “On November 4, 2021, at about the same time that FBI agents finished searching the home of a former Project Veritas journalist.”

Even while incorrectly stating that the initial search happened on November 5, the filing (and a subsequent one) don’t describe precisely when NYT’s Mike Schmidt twice reached out for comment about the searches, a key part of their obviously false narrative that Schmidt had to have gotten tipped off by the FBI.

The searches happened on November 4 and 6, at 6AM. I asked Mike Schmidt when he reached out but he didn’t respond, though Eric Cochran’s motion to appoint a Special Master says Schmidt reached out approximately an hour after the 3-hour search happened, so around 10AM.

The incorrect claim in that initial filing that the first searches occurred on November 5 may be nothing more than a typo, but sorting through the timeline alerted me to a chronological detail of some import that PV may want to obscure. PV got word themselves of the investigation, and reached out to one of the prosecutors involved, Mitzi Steiner, to find out more about the investigation on October 26. After Steiner refused to reveal anything about the investigation, lawyers for PV offered to accept a subpoena the next day, promising they had “material and helpful information” to the investigation. But after DOJ sent a subpoena on November 4 — almost certainly after the first searches, which targeted former PV staffers — PV persistently refused to say whether it would comply with the subpoena.

[T]he Government has repeatedly offered to be flexible about the Subpoena’s return date if Project Veritas confirms that it will comply with the requests therein. Project Veritas has repeatedly declined to do so, and similarly declines in its motion here to represent that it will comply.

And after PV repeatedly declined to ask for an extension in response to reassurances they would comply with the subpoena, they used the search on O’Keefe as an excuse to try to get such an extension.

Judge Analisa Torres denied PV’s request for an extension, which could have significant repercussions going forward.

There are several implications of this timeline. First, DOJ may believe, with some justification, that by first serving a subpoena on PV in response to their invitation to do so, only to have them equivocate about whether they would comply, they had fulfilled DOJ’s requirements to seek alternative resolutions, short of a search. That is, PV’s own games may have led to the search on O’Keefe.

The other issue is how this affects PV’s ability to claim expansive privilege protections. When PV alerted DOJ that it not only knew of the investigation, but who was leading it, DOJ likely took measures to identify how they had learned of the investigation. That’s a good way to identify attempts to obstruct an investigation. For example, after it became clear that Roger Stone was tampering in the Mueller investigation in 2018, Mueller obtained a pen register to learn with whom, besides Michael Caputo, Stone was communicating. That appears to be what alerted Mueller to how panicked Stone was by the Andrew Miller interview. That, in turn, is something that may have helped them obtain probable cause on the others. In a directly relevant example, for example, DOJ learned that Lev Parnas had deleted his iCloud account, which seems to be one of the things that helped SDNY obtain warrants for Rudy’s cloud-based accounts in 2019. When co-conspirators attempt to coordinate stories or delete evidence, it makes it a lot easier to obtain warrants.

As a result, there may be information pertaining to PV’s involvement in the alleged theft in three different places. First, I would be shocked if SDNY had not obtained the cloud-based communications of O’Keefe, Eric Cochran, and Spencer Meads. That said, DOJ has already indicated that it knows key communications of interest took place on Telegram, and it’s unclear what access DOJ has to that, independent of the phones Telegram texts were sent on. Then there are the contents of their phones, which may (and uncontroversially could) be subjected a Special Master review. If Torres grants PV’s request for a Special Master, it would give PV an opportunity to at least understand what the full legal exposure is. But then there’s the matter of the subpoena. I would be unsurprised if PV filed a challenge to the subpoena, which might go before Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain rather than Judge Torres, and might be sealed as a grand jury matter. But this is a subpoena they invited, which will make it a lot harder to claim the subpoena was improper.

With Michael Cohen, the government was able to demonstrate during the Special Master review that some of the materials that Cohen might otherwise have tried to claim were privileged were not, in part because they had already seized his cloud communications (including his Trump Organization emails, which were hosted and turned over by Microsoft). Here, if PV responded to the subpoena at all, the government get a privilege log, laying out why PV thinks conversations O’Keefe had with 45 different lawyers were really privileged, thereby committing PV and O’Keefe to the claims they made in a subpoena response (assuming, of course, they don’t buy time by challenging the subpoena).

Whatever the merit — or abuses — of the focus on PV, PV’s games on the subpoena may have made efforts to protect O’Keefe far more difficult. And their game-playing with the subpoena will make it more difficult for other news outlets in the future to have DOJ treat efforts to accommodate reasonable requests in good faith.

It’s a complex issue and we don’t have enough information to know whether DOJ’s case — that PV was involved in the theft of Ashley Biden’s diary itself, and so not protected under any First Amendment precedent that might otherwise be available to them — is solid or if it instead charges them for involvement after the diary was already stolen, the First Amendment standard under Bartnicki which applies to journalists and non-journalists alike. PV is also trying to shield materials — including donor information and claimed attorney-client privileged materials — along with anything purporting to relate to journalism. The seeming desperation to hide donor information (which normally wouldn’t be involved in the scope of such a request) raises real questions about the sincerity of their journalistic claims, particularly given the recent revelation that PV would let donors dictate the timing of PV’s publications. And as DOJ noted in its response to PV’s motion for a Special Master to review the seized material, PV is not trying to protect the identities of its purported (second-hand) sources for the diary, so some protections that might otherwise apply do not here.

It is troubling that DOJ seized records from O’Keefe citing crimes that suggest liability for a crime after the fact, because if PV genuinely was only involved after the fact, it would pose a dangerous precedent for actual journalists. But the games that PV appears to have played with their subpoena dangle — and some changes they’ve already made to their story — suggest there my be more to the story.

Timeline

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

2020

October 12: O’Keefe sends email, not mentioning Ashley Biden by name (but clearly referring to her) explaining his decision not to publish “Sting Ray” Story.

October 25: National File publishes pages from Ashely Biden’s diary, linking parallel New York Post campaign targeting Hunter. It explains the provenance of the diary this way:

National File also knows the reported precise location of the physical diary, and has been told by a whistleblower that there exists an audio recording of Ashley Biden admitting this is her diary.

[snip]

National File obtained this document from a whistleblower who was concerned the media organization that employs him would not publish this potential critical story in the final 10 days before the 2020 presidential election. National File’s whistleblower also has a recording of Ashley Biden admitting the diary is hers, and employed a handwriting expert who verified the pages were all written by Ashley. National File has in its posession a recording of this whistleblower detailing the work his media outlet did in preparation of releasing these documents. In the recording, the whistleblower explains that the media organization he works for chose not to release the documents after receiving pressure from a competing media organization.

November 3: PV provides the diary to local law enforcement in FL.

2021

October 26: Paul Calli call DOJ, asks for AUSA Mitzi Steiner, and asked to speak about the PV investigation; Steiner asked how Calli had obtained her name, what else he had obtained, and declined to speak with Calli.

October 27: Lawyers for Project Veritas inform the DOJ that they will accept service for a subpoena relating to the investigation

November 3, 3:49 PM: Search warrants for Eric Cochran and Spencer Meads approved.

November 4, AM: FBI executes search warrants on former PV employees, Cochran and Spencer Meads.

November 4: PV lawyers accept service of subpoena.

November 4, one hour after the search: Mike Schmidt reaches out to Cochran and O’Keefe for comment about the investigation.

November 5, 11:18 AM: Warrant for O’Keefe authorized

November 5: NYT publishes story on investigation including language that PV would later baseless claim had to have come from the FBI.

November 6: FBI executes a search warrant on James O’Keefe

November 6: Schmidt contacts O’Keefe for comment.

November 6: Lawyers for Project Veritas ask the FBI to sequester material from the phone.

November 7: DOJ declines PV’s request and states the FBI has complied with all media guidelines.

November 8, 6:11PM: DOJ emails PV and tells them the extraction may start as soon as the next day.

November 8: After PV says it’ll file a legal challenge, FBI says it’ll only stop extraction after PV files such a challenge.

November 10: On behalf of PV, Calli Law moves to appoint a Special Master.

November 11, 12:51-12:53AM: Calli asks for confirmation that DOJ stopped extraction and review on O’Keefe’s phone on November 8.

November 11, 7:57AM: DOJ responds that the substantive review of O’Keefe’s phone was paused upon filing of motion on November 10.

November 11; 2:13PM: Judge Analisa Torres sets initial briefing schedule; in response to Torres order, DOJ stops extraction of O’Keefe phone.

November 12: In response to DOJ request, Torres extends briefing schedule.

November 12: Greenberg Traurig lawyer Adam Hoffinger, representing Eric Cochran, asks for Special Master to apply to materials seized from him, as well.

November 12: Letter signed by FL attorney Brian Dickerson but apparently docketed by NY lawyer Eric Franz asks for Special Master to apply to Spencer Meads

November 12, 3:49PM: Calli asks for clarification on review and extraction.

November 12, 3:59PM: DOJ responds that, “upon the filing of your motion, the Government paused the review of all material obtained from the search of your  client’s residence.”

November 14: Calli submits clarification letter regarding extraction and review.

November 15: Torres sets schedule in Cochran docket.

November 15: DOJ requests permission to reply to PV on November 19.

November 15: Calli requests inquiry into government leaks to NYT.

November 16: Torres grants permission to respond on November 19.

November 16: Ian H. Marcus Amelkin asks to delete initials of PV source, A.H., from docket.

November 17: Torres denies Amelkin request without prejudice.

November 17: Cochran motion to appoint Special Master.

November 18: For Meads, Dickerson formally moves for Special Master (and also complains that FBI seized dated devices).

November 19: Calli requests extension on response deadline for PV subpoena.

November 19: Government files opposition to request for Special Master and inquiry into purported leaks.

November 19: DOJ requests permission to respond to motion for extension on subpoena. Torres grants request.

November 21: DOJ opposition to extend subpoena deadline.

November 21: Government motion to oppose unsealing affidavits.

November 22: Torres denies motion for extension on subpoena.

November 22: PV reply to government opposition to Special Master.

November 23: Torres denies motion (including from RCFP) to unseal affidavits.

November 23: Cochran reply to government opposition to unseal affidavits.

November 24: Meads reply to refusal to unseal affidavits, including letters from House and Senate complaining to DOJ.

NYT, Republican Opposition Rag

Clark Hoyt has a really curious final column summarizing his three years as the NYT’s public editor. A lot of it is self-congratulation to the NYT for even having a public editor. But I’m most fascinated by Hoyt’s rebuttal of reader claims that NYT is a “liberal rag.”

For all of my three years, I heard versions of Kevin Keller’s accusation: The Times is a “liberal rag,” pursuing a partisan agenda in its news columns.

[snip]

But if The Times were really the Fox News of the left, how could you explain the investigative reporting that brought down Eliot Spitzer, New York’s Democratic governor;derailed the election campaign of his Democratic successor, David Paterson; got Charles Rangel, the Harlem Democrat who was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, in ethics trouble; and exposed the falsehoods that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, another Democrat, was telling about his service record in the Vietnam era?

Hoyt names the Spitzer scandal, certain Paterson allegations, coverage of the Rangel scandal, and its recent Blumenthal attack as proof that the NYT is not a liberal rag.

With the exception of the Rangel coverage, these are all stories for which the source of the story is as much the issue as the story itself. Hoyt must hope we forget, for example, that Linda McMahon (Blumenthal’s opponent) boasted she fed the Blumenthal story to the NYT. Their denials that she had done so became even more unconvincing when the AP reported that the NYT hadn’t posted the full video, which undermined the NYT story.

I have no idea where the Rangel story came from (and in this case, I don’t care, because it’s clearly an important story about real abuse of power).

Then there’s Paterson. With this story, too, there’s a dispute about the NYT’s sources. Paterson says he was the NYT’s original source (they deny that too, and it’s true that this one is more likely to have been a Cuomo hit job). In any case, the NYT story fell far short of the bombshell that was promised for weeks leading up to it. Another political hit job that maybe wasn’t the story it was made out to be.

Which brings us to Eliot Spitzer. There are a number of possible sources the NYT might have relied on, starting with right wing ratfucker Roger Stone, who has bragged about being involved in that take-down. But they all, almost by definition, come down to leaks from inside a politicized DOJ. And those leaks focused not on any of the other elite Johns involved, not on the prostitution ring itself (which was, after all, exceptional only for its price tag), but on Spitzer. While I agree that Spitzer’s hypocrisy invited such a take-down, there wasn’t much legal news there, no matter how hard the press tried to invent it to justify the coverage.

But the list doesn’t end there. Elsewhere in Hoyt’s goodbye, he mentions his biggest regret–the Vicki Iseman story.

But throughout my tenure, Keller was gracious and supportive. When we had what was certainly our disagreement of greatest consequence — over the Times article suggesting that John McCain had had an extramarital affair with a young female lobbyist — Keller showed great equanimity. I said The Times had been off base. Though the story gave ammunition to critics who said the paper was biased, and it was no help to have the public editor joining thousands of readers questioning his judgment about it, Keller said mildly that we would just have to disagree on this one.

Say what you will about whether this was a worthwhile story, one with the wrong emphasis, or inappropriate scandal-mongering, it is pretty clear the Iseman part of the story came from disgruntled former Republican aides to McCain, probably in the neighborhood of John Weaver. Thus, it fits into this larger list of stories that serve not so much as proof of NYT fair-mindedness, but of its willingness to regurgitate oppo research in the service of powerful–often Republican–political opponents.

Then, finally, there’s the story that Hoyt doesn’t mention, to his significant discredit–the ACORN Pimp Hoax. Read more

TeaBugger Victimology

Oh, this is rich. Chief TeaBugger, James O’Keefe is preparing to argue that, the whole time he was sitting in jail with the son of the acting US Attorney for Shreveport, the US Attorney for New Orleans was abusing his rights.

Interviewed on Fox just moments ago, Andrew Breitbart claimed that alleged Landrieu phone tamperer James O’Keefe “sat in jail for 28 hours without access to an attorney.”

Breitbart, who has been on a public campaign defending O’Keefe, a paid contributor to Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, also charged that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Louisiana leaked information to the press “helping” them to frame the episode as “Watergate Junior.”

It’s all retaliation, you see, because TeaBugger O’Keefe has pressured Eric Holder to investigate ACORN based on TeaBugger O’Keefe’s own attempts to frame the organization.

Asked by Fox’s Megyn Kelly what motivation the U.S. Attorney would have to make such an effort, Breitbart responded: “Well, it’s tied to the Justice Department. And we’ve been very aggressive in asking Eric Holder to investigate what’s seen on the ACORN tapes, and he’s ignored it.”

I guess Breitbart and his little TeaBugger honestly believe that the press, faced with news of inept Republicans entering Democratic offices in disguise with the intent of “interfering” with that office’s phones, would need a cheat sheet to make the connection with Watergate?

You know, several days ago I was willing to dismiss this as a stupid juvenile prank. But given the increasing concern that the perpetrators are showing–and their increasingly dubious stories–I’m convinced it merits a closer look.

In any case, I bet that O’Keefe is going to hang this complaint on being stuck with the representation of J. Garrison Jordan for 24 hours, rather than the big name Watergate lawyer who is now representing him, Michael Madigan. Because somewhere in the Constitution, I’m certain, it says citizens are entitled to a lawyer with Watergate experience, and may not be required to make do with the representation of local lawyers.

TeaBugger O'Keefe: Liberate the Tapes!! (No, Not THOSE Tapes!)

There’s a real irony in James O’Keefe’s latest explanation for why he committed an alleged felony in an attempt to embarrass Mary Landrieu. He is now calling for the FBI to release the tapes that he and his accomplices made while in Landrieu’s office.

We video taped the entire visit, the government has those tapes, and I’m eager for them to be released because they refute the false claims being repeated by much of the mainstream media.

As you recall, one of the reasons why O’Keefe managed to impugn ACORN even though they had not engaged in any illegal activity is because he edited his videos significantly. He has refused, repeatedly, to release that raw video.

The unedited videos have never been made public. The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O’Keefe’s and Ms.Giles’s comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding. A comparison of the publicly available transcripts to the released videos confirms that large portions of the original video have been omitted from the released versions.

[snip]

Experienced forensic investigators would be able to determine the extent to which the released videos have been manipulated to distort, rather than merely shape, the facts and the conversations, as ACORN alleges.

So when O’Keefe wants to rebut the FBI’s affidavit alleging that he “by false and fraudulent pretense … did in fact enter [] real property belonging to the United States for the purpose of willfully and maliciously interfering with a telephone system operated and controlled by the United States,” he’s in favor of releasing his video tapes. But when O’Keefe seeks to sustain an inaccurate narrative about ACORN’s alleged corruption, he refuses to release his tapes.

Read more