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Ugh: ACORN-buster busted at Sen. Landrieu’s office in alleged bugging “malicious” phone tampering plot; affidavit link added; Update: “Veritas”?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  January 26, 2010 04:23 PM

Scroll for updates…See this clarification

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that James O’Keefe, half of the ACORN-busting duo that conducted undercover stings across the country last summer, was arrested today in an alleged wiretapping* plot at the New Orleans office of Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu. O’Keefe and three other young men were arrested by the FBI. One of the men is the son of the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana.

The Times-Picayune has not posted the full FBI affidavit, but the details they have are damning. This is neither a time to joke nor a time to recklessly accuse Democrats/liberals of setting this up — nor a time to whine about media coverage double standards. Deal with what’s on the table:

Alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O’Keefe, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group’s credibility.

Also arrested were Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, the office confirmed. All four were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.

According to the FBI affidavit, Flanagan and Basel entered the federal building at 500 Poydras Street about 11 a.m. Monday, dressed as telephone company employees, wearing jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool belts, and hard hats. When they arrived at Landrieu’s 10th floor office, O’Keefe was already in the office and had told a staffer he was waiting for someone to arrive.

When Flanagan and Basel entered the office, they told the staffer they were there to fix phone problems. At that time, the staffer, referred to only as Witness 1 in the affadavit, observed O’Keefe positioning his cell phone in his hand to videotape the operation. O’Keefe later admitted to agents that he recorded the event.

After being asked, the staffer gave Basel access to the main phone at the reception desk. The staffer told investigators that Basel manipulated the handset. He also tried to call the main office phone using his cell phone, and said the main line wasn’t working. Flanagan did the same.

They then told the staffer they needed to perform repair work on the main phone system and asked where the telephone closet was located. The staffer showed the men to the main General Services Administration office on the 10th floor, and both went in. There, a GSA employee asked for the men’s credentials, after which they stated they left them in their vehicle.

The U.S. Marshal’s Service apprehended all four men shortly thereafter.

*Updated* They are, of course, presumed innocent until proven guilty.

But for now, let it be a lesson to aspiring young conservatives interested in investigative journalism:

Know your limits. Know the law. Don’t get carried away. And don’t become what you are targeting.

***

*Updated*: The affidavit pdf is hereO’Keefe and the others admit to entering the government office under false pretenses. O’Keefe admits to planning the operation.

*Update: Note that the affidavit refers to malicious interference with the phone system, not bugging or wiretapping.*

Excerpt:

Update: Allahpundit has the relevant legal statutes/analysis. Not good.

***

Update: Ooookay

A conservative activist who posed as a pimp to target the community-organizing group ACORN and the son of a federal prosecutor were among four men arrested and accused of trying to tamper with phones at Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office.

Activist James O’Keefe, 25, recorded two of the other suspects with his cell phone as they walked into the office dressed like telephone repairman and said they needed to fix problems with the phone system, according to an FBI affidavit.

A federal law enforcement official said one of the suspects was picked up in a car a couple of blocks away with a listening device that could pick up transmissions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not part of an FBI affidavit that described the circumstances of the case.

O’Keefe said “veritas,” Latin for truth, as he left a suburban jail Tuesday with suspects Stan Dai and Joseph Basel, both 24. All declined to comment.

“There will be a time for that,” Dai said.

As he got into a cab outside the jail, O’Keefe said, “The truth shall set me free.” His biography on a Web site where he blogs says he works at VeritasVisuals.com, though that Web site does not currently work.

The fourth suspect, Robert Flanagan, the son of Shreveport-based acting U.S. Attorney Bill Flanagan, was not with them. It was not immediately known if he had already been released on the $10,000 bail set for each suspect.

It sounded like a Watergate-style operation, but federal officials have not yet said why the men wanted to interfere with Landrieu’s phones, whether they were successful, or even if the goal was political espionage.

Local TV report shows brief comment from O’Keefe here. Pre-trial proceedings are schedule for tomorrow morning:

***

Update: Hmmmm. Here’s Patterico’s take…

OK, final word. I’m sticking out my neck and declaring that I think this will prove to be a big nothing.

I just don’t believe this guy was wiretapping phones or trying to do so. I really don’t.

It might not even have been an attempt to show how easy it would be to bug phones. Maybe there is another explanation. But I don’t think he was acting in a criminal fashion. I don’t.

You can quote me.

***

Update: Hannah Giles writes:

Andrew Breitbart has made the new media trendy, and after the ACORN videos everyone and his conservative dog was aboard the new-media campaign bandwagon. Yet, the moment an unsubstantiated report on James was leaked, the rank and file of our movement exposed themselves as vulnerable to the MSM as anyone

For instance, Michelle Malkin, a once avid supporter/defender of James and all his work, called for an example to be made out of him, and instructing other young journalists to not follow in his footsteps. Again, this was before she knew his side of the story.

As a reminder, here was Hannah’s initial reaction before she knew the full story:

I am shocked by the reports of this behavior. I am well aware that following the law is an integral part of being a good investigative journalist. I take that responsibility and accountability very seriously. I certainly hope these reports are untrue.

I stand by my initial response to the story:

Know your limits. Know the law. Don’t get carried away. And don’t become what you are targeting.

***

Ed Morrissey:

There has been considerable overreach by some media outlets, to be sure. Some elements of the story have come directly from the report filed by the FBI,- detailing what the witnesses told them about the operation. That information remains to be tested in court, but the description therein doesn’t quite square with O’Keefe’s explanation. They wouldn’t have needed to get access to the telephone closet in order to observe people answering the phone, and attempting to access it under false pretenses (representing themselves as telephone-company technicians) strongly implies that they wanted access for other reasons.

If the FBI affadavit or the witness testimony is inaccurate, then that will come out in court. However, I doubt that the FBI got the description of their clothing wrong, and dressing up as telephone repairmen wouldn’t have been necessary at all to get undercover video of people answering the phone, or not answering it, as the case may be. If all O’Keefe and his people wanted was an admission that the phone system was working, then the disguise may have helped, but it still wouldn’t have been necessary to gain access to the phone closet.

O’Keefe seems to recognize that now:

On reflection, I could have used a different approach to this investigation, particularly given the sensitivities that people understandably have about security in a federal building. The sole intent of our investigation was to determine whether or not Senator Landrieu was purposely trying to avoid constituents who were calling to register their views to her as their Senator. 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.

Even accepting O’Keefe’s explanation, his team still appears to have broken the law by gaining admission to a federal office under false pretenses and attempting to access the phone system, possibly with “willful and malicious” intent to interfere with it. Be sure to read Allahpundit’s analysis of the law and how it applies to this situation. If a judge winds up with this case, he will certainly take intent and purpose under consideration but it doesn’t change the fact that O’Keefe should have done his homework and reconsidered this very bad idea before engaging in it. And what for? To get on people on tape answering the phones? That’s not exactly a journalistic scoop.

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