The American Civil Liberties Union has released a statement after FBI agents raided the homes of Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and two of the organization’s associates, operations that were followed quickly by detailed reports from The New York Times that some believe were based on information leaked to the paper by the bureau.
In its statement, the ACLU lambasted O’Keefe and his organization but at the same time suggested the chain of events could produce “serious consequences” for “press freedom.”
The statement comes after O’Keefe and his team members were rousted by the FBI in relation to a diary that has allegedly been stolen from Ashley Biden, who is President Joe Biden’s daughter. During the raids, FBI agents seized cellphones, computers, and other devices.
Details from materials contained on those seized devices were later exposed in reports by The New York Times, which also appeared to have been tipped off to the otherwise confidential raids; reporters from the Times attempted to contact O’Keefe and his associates within an hour or so after the FBI searched their homes.
The treatment from the Justice Department and FBI, as well as the apparent leak of Project Veritas materials, has led some critics to suggest the raids are politically motivated since O’Keefe has said his organization turned down a deal from “tipsters” to receive the diary and publish allegedly damaging excerpts from it ahead of last year’s presidential election.
“Project Veritas has engaged in disgraceful deceptions, and reasonable observers might not consider their activities to be journalism at all,” the left-leaning legal group’s statement began. “Nevertheless, the precedent set in this case could have serious consequences for press freedom.”
“Unless the government had good reason to believe that Project Veritas employees were directly involved in the criminal theft of the diary, it should not have subjected them to invasive searches and seizures,” the statement continued. “We urge the court to appoint a special master to ensure that law enforcement officers review only those materials that were lawfully seized and that are directly relevant to a legitimate criminal investigation.”
In a scathing response last week, O’Keefe condemned the raids as well as the Times and the FBI.
“I awoke to the news that apartments and homes of Project Veritas journalists, or former journalists, had been raided by FBI agents,” O’Keefe said following the first raids against his associates. “It appears the Southern District of New York now has journalists in their sights for the supposed ‘crime’ of doing their jobs lawfully and honestly. Or at least, this journalist.”
“We do not know how the New York Times was aware of the execution of a search warrant at our reporter’s home or the subject matter of the search warrant as a grand jury investigation is secret,” O’Keefe continued.
“The FBI took materials of current, former Project Veritas journalists despite the fact that our legal team previously contacted the Department of Justice and voluntarily conveyed unassailable facts that demonstrate Project Veritas’ lack of involvement in criminal activity, and or criminal intent,” he added.
The Project Veritas founder went on to say that after “tipsters” contacted his organization and the validity of the supposed diary could not be confirmed, his organization declined to pursue the matter further and turned the diary over to federal authorities.
“At the end of the day, we made the ethical decision that because, in part, we could not determine if the diary was real, if the diary in fact belonged to Ashley Biden, or if the contents of the diary occurred, we could not publish the diary and any part thereof,” O’Keefe said.
“Project Veritas gave the diary to law enforcement to ensure it could be returned to its rightful owner. We never published it,” O’Keefe added.
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