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Between the Lines: The James O'Keefe Criminal Complaint

4 years ago
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Today we introduce a regular feature of PD Investigations, in which we read between the lines of news stories by dissecting the public documents, reports, e-mails, contracts and the other written ephemera that underlie them.

Monday night, Fox News Channel's "Hannity" featured the first post-arrest interview given by one of the defendants charged last week in New Orleans with "entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony." The affidavit below, sworn to by FBI special agent Steven Rayes, was filed Jan. 25 with the innocuous heading "USA v. Flanagan et al.," before the U.S. magistrate in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Its contents and dissemination (assisted by an FBI press release) occasioned a wave of stories about the misguided caper of two guys who showed up in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building dressed as workmen: "blue denim pants, a blue work shirt, a light fluorescent green vest, tool belt and carrying white construction-style hard hat." They allegedly said they were "there to fix problems with the telephone system," while a third associate sitting in the reception area "positioned his cellular phone in his hand so as to record."

The young man on "Hannity," James O'Keefe Jr., who identifies himself as an "investigative journalist," later claimed in a statement posted on the Web site biggovernment.com that their motive was "to determine whether or not Senator Landrieu was purposely trying to avoid constituents." After the Louisiana Democrat announced her support for the Senate health care reform bill, opponents of the decision complained that they were unable to register their protests, as calls were forwarded to voice mail boxes that were often full.

The incident has been described in various accounts as either a political prank or political espionage, but the three 24-year-old men -- and a fourth who was in a nearby car receiving an audio transmission -- are being hailed as "activists" by those on the right. O'Keefe told host Sean Hannity he has been a victim of "media malpractice" from press reports misconstruing the affidavit.

O'Keefe's arrest was of particular interest because of a previous filmmaking incident last summer when he and a companion posed as a pimp and prostitute to hoax employees of left-leaning Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN). The pair sought advice on how to operate a brothel and avoid paying taxes, recording the meetings via hidden camera.

Although his biggest supporter, conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart, told Fox News on Monday that O'Keefe was denied access to an attorney after the arrest, the alleged perpetrator didn't have to look far for counsel Eddie Castaing to represent him and two of his co-defendants at their arraignment. The local criminal lawyer has offices across the street from the courthouse (which, conveniently, is in the same building as Sen. Landrieu's office).

O'Keefe was released on $10,000 bail bond, surrendered his passport and sent to his room in his parents' New Jersey house. Once he was free to go (a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 12), the young man's counsel was quickly upgraded to white-collar criminal defense practitioner Michael Madigan, a D.C. super-lawyer whose political-scandal experience goes back to his work for Sen. Howard Baker on the Senate Watergate Committee. No word if the defendant, looking at a possible 10-year prison sentence, will compensate Madigan from the "salary" Breitbart pays him for "life rights."

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