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Judge Rules O'Keefe's Schemes Can Be Portrayed to Jury As 'Political Spying'

·3-min read
Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge has dealt conservative figure James O’Keefe a legal blow, ruling that his group’s undercover operations against a Democratic consulting firm can fairly be described at an upcoming million-dollar trial as “political spying.”

Making matters worse for the right-wing star, the judge cited O’Keefe’s own book as evidence against him.

In 2016, Allison Maass, an operative for O’Keefe’s Project Veritas group, took an internship at Democratic firm Democracy Partners under a fake name. While staffers at the firm thought Maass was working to elect Democrats in the 2016 campaign, she was secretly recording them and relaying undercover video and notes on the group to Project Veritas. Project Veritas eventually released the video, prompting Democracy Partners founder Robert Creamer to “step back” from the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Twitter Permanently Bans Project Veritas Founder James O’Keefe

Creamer and Democracy Partners sued Project Veritas in 2017 over the sting. Now, with the trial set for December, O’Keefe’s lawyers wanted to preemptively prevent the plaintiffs’ lawyers from describing Project Veritas’s work in court as “political spying.”

In an Oct. 14 court opinion, though, U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled that it’s reasonable to describe O’Keefe’s group’s actions in that way.

“‘Political spying’ is a fair characterization of the undisputed facts of this case,” Friedman, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote.

O’Keefe’s lawyers had argued that Project Veritas operates as journalists, an argument that would likely make it easier at trial for Project Veritas to claim their activities were protected under the First Amendment. But much of the evidence that Project Veritas’s operation could be called spying came from O’Keefe’s own 2018 book, American Pravda.

Describing the Democracy Partners sting in his book, O’Keefe wrote that Maass worked under an “assigned role” and compared her to a spy working in the Soviet Union—“literally living out her character in America’s capital city much as Americans overseas did in Moscow during the Cold War.”

Meet the Democrats’ Answer to Sting Artist James O’Keefe

As if to make the comparison between Maass and notorious political spying operations clearer, O’Keefe wrote in his book that Maass devised a way to hide her recording device from metal detectors and even compared Maass to the Watergate burglars.

“The last time operatives got caught stealthily entering the DNC headquarters, those headquarters were in the Watergate complex,” O’Keefe wrote. “Remember that kerfuffle?”

“This lawsuit is further exposing the lows to which Creamer will stoop to attack the first amendment, this time by calling undercover reporting ‘political spying,’” Project Veritas said in a statement. “Creamer’s actions are antithetical to a free press and should be denounced by all reporters.”

In another setback for O’Keefe, Friedman also ruled that lawyers for Democracy Partners can introduce proof of ties between Project Veritas, and Donald Trump.

The evidence includes O’Keefe meeting with Trump during the 2016 campaign and his appearance at Trump’s election-night party and could be offered to prove that Project Veritas staffers operated as political operatives, instead of journalists. The plaintiffs also won the right to introduce video of anti-Muslim activist and then-Project Veritas employee Laura Loomer hitting a piñata shaped like Hillary Clinton as evidence.

Editor's note: The headline on this story has been corrected to reflect the language in the judge’s order

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