Breaking News--New Media "Visionary" Arrested in Plot Against U.S. Senator

History repeats itself today as the FBI arrests four people attempting to access the telephones in the district office of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). David Hammer of The Times-Picayune is reporting that the the right-wing "gotcha" man, James O'Keefe, who orchestrated the effort to discredit ACORN via spliced video footage last year, is one of those who were arrested in the plot against a sitting U.S. Senator who is up for election later this year.

The FBI believes O'Keefe aided and abetted Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, "who dressed up as employees of a telephone company and attempted to interfere with the office's telephone system," thus entering federal property under false pretenses, at a minimum. O'Keefe was purportedly present for the attempting bugging or unlawful access to the Senator's phone lines and claimed to be waiting for someone.

Just last week O'Keefe gave a speech to the "Pelican Institute," which praised his controversial and discredited work against ACORN by suggesting that he "has been a pioneer in the use of new media to drive these kinds of important stories. He will discuss the role of new media and show examples of effective investigative reporting." If felony wiretapping is the "new" media, there's a lot to be worried about.

So, let's get to the questions. Who is funding O'Keefe's "work?" Is there a slush fund enabling this, or is it coming directly from corporations or corporate foundations? We do know that he has previously received funding from the billionaire PayPal founder and Facebook investor, Peter Thiel, according to the Village Voice. That is not to suggest that Thiel funded this unlawful effort; simply that he previously provided some funding for O'Keefe. Who is funding O'Keefe nowadays?

Notably, O'Keefe has been a darling of the far-right establishment. He was a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convention in 2007. Here's a clip of how that event was described: "'Conservative Victories with New Media' Empire Ballroom John Ziegler, KFI Matt Sheffield, Research Center Erick Erickson, James O'Keefe, The Leadership Institute David All, David All Group Moderator: Rob Bluey, The Heritage Foundation."

This year, O'Keefe was a finalist for CPAC's Ronald Reagan Award at the annual convention. (I wouldn't have been surprised if O'Keefe had been given that "distinction" since the award previously was given to Manny Miranda, the top aide to then-Republican Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist, after Manny was forced to resign as the Senate investigated his own Watergate-style operations, which involved taking copies of my confidential files and those of my colleagues who staffed the Senate Judiciary Committee.)

Stay tuned for more on this tale of Watergate redux. Meanwhile, it seems prudent for others up for re-election to get their offices swept for bugs and be on the lookout for other machinations. The political climate seems ripe for these sorts of unlawful dirty tricks.

--Update/Clarification, as of 8:30 CST--

The first news reports mentioned that O'Keefe and his crew were attempting to bug or wiretap the Senator's office (a "plot to wiretap"), but it appears the first set of charges relate to using false pretenses to enter a federal building. The FBI's affidavit, however, describes how O'Keefe's agents pretended to work for the phone company and accessed the telephones and wires and attempted to access the cabinet containing the main phone lines. I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist, or expert in telephony, to understand that to be a possible attempt to wiretap her phone lines. It appears they have not yet been charged with that offense, however. Here is the link to the sworn statement of the FBI.

Additionally, one commenter points out that FOX News has posted an unspliced version of last year's ACORN video on its site. I'm not sure that video has been authenticated, but I wanted to make readers aware of this information.

--Update/Clarification as of January 29, 2010--
O'Keefe has claimed that an unnamed official has confirmed that O'Keefe's gang was not trying to wiretap the Senator's phones but was attempting to disrupt them. The original story by the Times-Picayune noted that bugging was suspected and also that "An official close to the investigation said one of the four was arrested with a listening device in a car blocks from the senator's offices." So, the post has been updated to reflect the latest information, from unnamed officials.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”



Spliced video footage huh? I guess you just failed to watch the version with the time visible the entire time. But what I find most interesting is that you have already accused them of bugging a phone, which seems odd since they haven't even been charged with that.

Thanks for your note. On your first point, the video versions I saw were plainly spliced, but I will take a look at any authenticated uncut version of the tape. In the meantime, here is the link to a video from the Philly ACORN office noting that they called the police after O'Keefe behaved suspiciously at their office: [ video link at bottom of page]. On your second point, as someone who has studied federal wiretapping rules and history in great depth, the facts in the sworn FBI affidavit plainly describes an attempt to gain access to the wires related to the Senator's phones, with O'Keefe instrumentally involved. Here's [ the link]. It's not unreasonable to fear wiretapping or some other tampering, especially with published reports that one of the plotters was outside the building with a "listening device."

James O'Keefe, like every American deserves a fair trial and if convicted should be sentenced to 50 years at hard labor. Yes, 50 years. A hard sentence, but absolutely necessary to teach him and those like him who attempt to deny others of their rights under Our Constitution. I spent 43 years of my life in the service of the United States Army, taking the Oath to Defend the Constitution Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domerstic, seven times. I was proud and privileged to do so, but NOT to defend Garbage among the people whose only loyalty is to the almighty dollar. Nixon went because of his dirty tricks and misuse of government agencies, and the Garbage will also go.

Someplace, Richard Nixon is smiling...