On 1 June 2017, James O'Keefe and (a well-known maker of "sting" videos) was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages. The lawsuit accuses his Project Veritas activist organization of "trespass; fraudulent misrepresentation; and civil conspiracy" in the production of a series of videos he made leading up to the 2016 presidential election, for which one of his employees infiltrated a Democratic consulting firm posing as an intern.
The lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C. on behalf of Democracy Partners, Strategic Consulting Group and Robert Creamer, accuses O'Keefe and his two nonprofit organizations Project Veritas and Project Veritas Action Fund — along with his operatives Allison Maass and Daniel Sandini — of using false pretenses to gain access to Democracy Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm that was a subcontractor for the Democratic National Committee. As a result of their activities, the firm lost multiple contracts.
According to Stephen Gordon, a spokesman for Project Veritas, there was no wrongdoing. In an e-mailed statement, Gordon told us:
Our undercover journalists operated within the spirit, intent and letter of the law. In this case, our undercover journalist was welcomed, as a volunteer, into the Democracy Partners' offices, was handed a card access key for the entire office area and was voluntarily provided with a computer login, all without ever being asked by Democracy Partners to sign any form of a non-disclosure agreement.
The lawsuit alleges that Creamer was introduced in late June 2016 to a man using a pseudonym (later identified as Sandini) who presented himself as a potential donor to a non-profit Creamer had done work for. In mid-July 2016, Sandini told Creamer he had a niece named "Angela Brandt" who wanted to do volunteer work for Democratic candidates.
On 21 September 2016, Project Veritas employee Allison Maass (posing as "Angela Brandt") began working for Democracy Partners as an intern after providing falsified biographical and work history information. Per the lawsuit, she carried:
...at most or all times a camera and audio recording devices which were concealed and not visible to anyone talking or meeting with her in the Democracy Partners’ offices.
According to court documents, Maass, posing as the intern Brandt, was given full access to Democracy Partners' building, a computer sign-on and wireless password, and was privy to conversations and information deemed confidential and proprietary by the firm. Some of the documents she took from Democracy Partners were published by Project Veritas and audio she recorded wound up as part of a four-part video series called "Rigging the Election."
The lawsuit says the videos were released just before the 2016 presidential election:
On her first day of work, Maass was also asked to provide a resume. She provided a fabricated resume on September 22, 2016 that used the fake name, "Angela Brandt" and omitted her employment with Project Veritas, her real work history, her work for other conservative news outlets that oppose the candidates and projects SCG and Democracy Partners work with, and her real educational background degree. Instead, it provided an entirely false and fabricated work history and education.
Democracy Partners relied on this fabricated resume, and the trust Maass steadily gained through her volunteer work related to the Republican National Convention and the ongoing interest she expressed in gaining further advocacy and campaign-related experience, to continue Maass’s internship and give her assignments. Had Maass provided her real employment history and educational background, she would never have been hired and her internship would have been immediately terminated. ...
During the course of her internship, Maass was included among the recipients of highly confidential emails, and in confidential discussions in in-person meetings and on conference calls; and she was sent confidential documents. She was given the phone number and private access code for client conference calls. She was also brought to confidential client meetings. These calls, emails and documents all contained confidential business information which Creamer told her was confidential and not to be shared with anyone with whom she had not been instructed to share it.
Maass provided a number of these confidential documents and emails to PV and PVAF. PVAF then published them on its website under the heading “VeritasLeaks” on or around October 26, 2016. The website states “Here are some supporting documents for the Democracy Partners videos we have been releasing.”
The lawsuit also accuses O'Keefe of "selectively editing" the videos, and then drawing misleading conclusions from the footage included in his series:
The video was heavily edited and contained commentary by O’Keefe that drew false conclusions from the selectively edited videos, to charge that Plaintiffs were involved in a conspiracy to incite violence at rallies for then-candidate Donald Trump, and falsely implied that the ongoing work in planning and implementing the bracketing events was part of that conspiracy. The purpose of this video, and all of the videos, was falsely to portray the Democratic Party and progressive organizations as being engaged in unethical and illegal activity.
Democracy Partners' attorney Joseph Sandler accused O'Keefe and company of being "modern day Watergate burglars." Sandler told us:
To misrepresent yourself, and lie and submit fake resumes to get access on false premise to confidential information and tape surreptitiously on top of it — real journalists don’t do that. This illegal conduct has done real damage and we’re trying to hold them accountable for the damages they caused.
In a statement sent to reporters, O'Keefe said:
We are on the right side of the law and will not stop exposing the truth. Right now, the Attorney General of Wisconsin is still investigating possible criminal charges against [operative] Scott Foval. This lawsuit further justifies the need to drain the swamp. Our army of guerrilla journalists, which grows daily, will continue to expose the malfeasance and corruption committed by these organizations. ...
We will not be intimidated. We will not be silenced. We will find out who is funding this lawsuit. We will never stop exposing the truth. We will not back down.
The videos purport to show Democracy Partner employees, including Foval, a Madison activist, talking about potentially illegal activities, such as voter fraud and causing chaos at campaign rallies for then-candidate Donald Trump. When they were initially released, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said they showed "apparent violations of the law".
As of late April 2017, local news media in Wisconsin reported that Schimel's office had released contradictory statements about whether or not the investigation was ongoing. We were unable to reach the office on the afternoon of 2 June 2017 to inquire about the current status of the probe. Foval gave an interview to a local publication on 18 May 2017, in which he said the things he discussed in the video were "hypothetical" and not real scenarios — an explanation panned by Project Veritas' executive director in the same article.
Project Veritas maintains that these videos were not misleading. Gordon pointed to a passage in the first video in which an Scott Foval tells O'Keefe's employee that he had planted people in the crowd at a rally for Republican Wisconsin Governor (and former presidential candidate) Scott Walker to cause a commotion. At the 12-minute mark of the video, Foval says:
Remember the Iowa state fair thing where Scott Walker grabbed the sign out of the dude’s hand and then the dude gets kind of roughed up right in front of the stage right there on camera? That was all us.
Foval was fired shortly after the videos were released; Creamer had released the following statement at the time:
We regret the unprofessional and careless hypothetical conversations that were captured on hidden cameras of a temporary regional contractor for our firm, and he is no longer working with us. While, none of the schemes described in the conversations ever took place, these conversations do not at all reflect the values of Democracy Partners.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., three men, Paul Kuhn, Colin Dunn, and Scott Charney, each pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor conspiracy to commit assault after they were caught in a separate sting video produced by Project Veritas in which they discussed plans to disrupt an event leading up to President Trump's 20 January 2017 inauguration. All three signed what is referred to as a deferred sentencing agreement -- if they perform 48 hours of community service and abide by the law the guilty plea will be withdrawn and the case will be dismissed at the time of sentencing.