On 18 October 2016, conservative news outlets began celebrating the claim that conservative activist James O’Keefe, who is best known for undercover video stings targeting politically liberal organizations, had gotten “another scalp.” All their stories linked back to a purported statement given to Fox News by Americans United for Change president Brad Woodhouse:
Americans United for Change has always operated according to the highest ethical standards. Scott Foval is no longer associated with Americans United for Change.
Foval’s job loss is fallout from “Rigging the Election,” a series of sting videos released by O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action, one of which video captured Foval talking about disrupting Republican campaign events and voter fraud. Americans United for Change did not return our repeated phone calls and e-mails seeking to verify Foval’s employment status, but the Washington Post reported Foval was laid off on 17 October 2016. Foval appears to have taken down all of his social media profiles.
The Project Veritas videos seemingly show Democratic operative Foval talking about bare-knuckle, unethical, even illegal approaches to electioneering, including paying mentally ill people to cause disruptions or sending people across state lines to vote illegally, although the selective editing approach typically used by O’Keefe makes it difficult to ascertain the context of what was captured on camera.
Democracy Partners released a statement on 18 October 2016 condemning both the statements made in the videos and the making of the videos themselves:
Our firm has recently been the victim of a well-funded, systematic spy operation that is the modern day equivalent of the Watergate burglars. The plot involved the use of trained operatives using false identifications, disguises and elaborate false covers to infiltrate our firm and others, in order to steal campaign plans, and goad unsuspecting individuals into making careless statements on hidden cameras.
One of those individuals was a temporary regional subcontractor who was goaded into statements that do not reflect our values. WE CONDEMN VIOLENCE AND ELECTION TAMPERING IN ALL THEIR FORMS. We go to extreme measures to ensure no violence takes place at any of our events. Period.
For about a month, a woman who identified herself as Angela Brandt (also known as Allison Maass, Allison Moss, and Alyssa Harris) presented a forged resume and ID. Allison Maass recorded conversations without our knowledge and consent.
On 2 November 2016, Robert Creamer, who was also targeted in the video sting, told us he did not take a “step back” from Democracy Partners, has had been previously reported, but from the Democratic National Committee to avoid being a distraction in the final countdown to election day.
O’Keefe executed a plot that involved the use of trained operatives using false identifications, disguises and elaborate false covers to infiltrate our firm and other consulting firms, in order to steal campaign plans, and goad unsuspecting individuals into making careless statements on hidden cameras.
Those of us who are involved in political work because we believe deeply in progressive values are saddened that those on the right are using dirty tricks in order to pursue their political agenda rather than engage in an honest debate about ideas.
I will not aid Mr. O’Keefe’s despicable efforts to distract from the critical choice American voters face November 8 .
César Vargas, a third target in the videos and a Latino outreach strategist for the Bernie Sanders campaign, said the videos were edited to be purposefully misleading:
Hey Friends, apparently there is a conspiracy video out there with me in it. Here is some background, “Veritas Project” is the group behind this video. They are a far-right group, the people working in it are political operatives, and all Trump supporters who were interviewing activist on their work confronting elected officials. Some of the people in the video work with DNC which is why they show them more — they left me out. Of course, they didn’t expect for me to tell them that we confront both Democrats and Republicans and that we organize for our families not a political party. No surprise, they deleted this and many other parts and they just edited the video to distort the story. Whatever I told this group is what I tell everyone in public: we fight for our family not for a political party. They have a transcript of our conversation to confirm I told them that voting twice was illegal. But I will not respond to FOX News or others fanning the flames but let them have their field day of conspiracies.
PV: But you can do that. You can’t do that under the same name. So he (fake character) wants to devise a way …
CV: Again, you cannot vote twice. Even if you are the same person.
But the unedited footage won’t be made available any time soon. When reached by phone, Laura Loomer, assistant communications director for Project Veritas and Project Veritas Action, denied the videos were deceptively edited and added that the organization does not release its raw footage or transcripts of raw footage:
Tons of people accuse us of deceptively or selectively editing our footage, but usually the people accusing us are the people caught on camera. If it wasn’t real why did Bob Creamer resign and why was Scott Foval fired?”
O’Keefe’s methods have been called into question by others in the past. The Post explained why the reaction to the latest batch seemed slow:
Both “scalps,” as O’Keefe refers to them, drew new attention to a campaign that had become viewed very skeptically by political reporters. O’Keefe’s 2009 sting of ACORN led to the destruction of that group; a 2011 sting of NPR executives led to two resignations. Subsequent investigations found discrepancies between how the undercover journalists approached their targets and how they packaged what the targets said. In the latter case, then-NPR executive Ron Schiller quoted a Republican who viewed tea party activists as “racist.” The edited clip made it appear that Schiller himself held that opinion.
Project Veritas and Project Veritas Action — the latter group created to more freely cover political activity — had a more fitfully successful record. In a series of videos, O’Keefe and other journalists posed as registered voters to expose how easy it would be to obtain ballots fraudulently where identification was not required to vote. But there were high-profile failures, too. A sting in which a journalist posed as a Canadian citizen and purchased Clinton campaign merchandise was unveiled at a news conference where the first question was: “Is this a joke?” A mole sent to work for a Democratic campaign in Wisconsin was exposed and fired. A call to the Open Society Foundations, founded by the frequent conservative target George Soros, went awry when a Project Veritas journalist left the phone off the hook. The result was shared with New Yorker magazine reporter Jane Mayer.
The latest O’Keefe videos seem to fit into a narrative Republican nominee Donald Trump has favored in recent weeks, namely, claiming the 8 November 2016 will be “rigged.”
Sting videos have become a high-profile political tool among activists in recent months. Videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress and released in the summer of 2015 claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials illegally marketing fetal tissue and body parts. Activists from the video sting group were indicted on counts relating to the production of the videos, including faking identification and purchasing human organs. The charges against them were later dropped.