REMEMBER THE FAKE PIMP IN THE ACORN STING?
Wall Street Journal – An attorney for conservative activist James O’Keefe denied Wednesday that his client had sought to tamper with phones at the New Orleans offices of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, after he and three other men were arrested and charged by federal officials.
“There was no bugging of telephones, no wiretapping, no trying to interfere with the phone system,” said Michael Madigan, a Washington attorney representing Mr. O’Keefe. “We’re cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s investigation and are confident that the true facts will come out.”
The men are accused of participating in a scheme Monday in which two allegedly posed as telephone repairmen and entered Ms. Landrieu’s office to tamper with the phone lines. Mr. O’Keefe, Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan were charged with entering a federal building under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.
The men haven’t entered pleas. They are scheduled to appear in federal court in New Orleans on Feb. 12. An attorney for Messrs. Basel, Dai and Flanagan didn’t return a call for comment.
Federal authorities says Messrs. O’Keefe and Dai admitted to helping conceive and execute the plan, and that Messrs. Basel and Flanagan admitted they entered Ms. Landrieu’s office posing as repairmen.
Their reasons for allegedly singling out Ms. Landrieu were unclear.
“This is a very unusual situation and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff,” Ms. Landrieu said in a statement. “I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward.”
All four men have significant experience as activists for conservative causes. The common link between at least three of them is Mr. O’Keefe, whose work has achieved the highest profile among them. Last year, Mr. O’Keefe, a 25-year-old filmmaker, shot undercover videos at field offices of advocacy group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn, that gained national attention for purporting to document corruption.
Mr. O’Keefe didn’t respond to a request for comment sent by email. Mr. O’Keefe’s father, Jim O’Keefe of Westwood, N.J., said he didn’t know what to make of the situation and was looking for more information. “I believe in him. He’s an honest kid, a good kid, and he’s trying to uncover the facts,” Mr. O’Keefe’s father said.
People who know the accused men describe them as earnest in their convictions and honest in pursuing them. But some suggested that, if the allegations are true, they might have gone too far Monday.
“I am shocked by the reports of this behavior,” Hannah Giles, who collaborated with Mr. O’Keefe on the Acorn videos, said in a statement. Ms. Giles posed as a prostitute and Mr. O’Keefe as a pimp in the footage, and together they sought advice from Acorn workers about opening a brothel.
“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,” Ms. Giles said. “I certainly hope these reports are untrue.”
Steven Sutton, vice president of campus programs at the Leadership Institute, an Arlington Va.-based group that trains college students in conservative activism, extolled Mr. O’Keefe—who went through the training while attending Rutgers University—as “the rare person on the right who is willing to push the envelope.”
“Liberals have no shortage of people willing to get arrested to bring attention to their cause,” Mr. Sutton said. “On the right we have very few people. It’s a reality.”
But this time, he said, it appears that Mr. O’Keefe may have overstepped.
“This is serious stuff, it really is,” Mr. Sutton said. “I just don’t understand what they were trying to achieve.”
After Mr. O’Keefe graduated from college, he worked at the institute for about a year, according to Mr. Sutton, flying across the nation and training students to launch conservative publications at their campuses. He said one of Mr. O’Keefe’s trainees was Mr. Basel, then a student at the University of Minnesota’s Morris campus.
With Mr. O’Keefe’s guidance, Mr. Basel used a grant from the Leadership Institute to start a conservative student newspaper, the Counterweight. Mr. Basel also was active in the College Republicans and worked on the 2006 campaign of Republican state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen.
“I hope that the investigation is thorough and any criminal acts are punished to the full extent,” Mr. Ingebrigtsen said in a statement.
Mr. Basel couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mr. O’Keefe and Mr. Flanagan share a connection with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a nonprofit think tank in New Orleans that advocates for limited government and acts as a policy watchdog. Like Mr. O’Keefe, the Pelican Institute has conducted its own investigative reporting on Acorn, which was founded in New Orleans. Pelican Institute President Kevin P. Kane said that common interest led his organization to host an event last Thursday with Mr. O’Keefe as the featured speaker. His topic was “Exposing Truth: Undercover Video, New Media and Creativity.”
The 24-year-old Mr. Flanagan has worked on a contract basis for the Pelican Institute’s Web blog, according to Mr. Kane.
“Robert has done terrific work, and I think very highly of him and am very sorry to see him in this difficult situation,” Mr. Kane said in a response by e-mail. “Needless to say, these allegations are serious and we…do not condone illegal or unethical activity of any type.”
Mr. Flanagan, who lives in New Orleans, is the son of William J. Flanagan, the interim U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. A spokeswoman at U.S. Attorney Flanagan’s office, in Shreveport, said he wouldn’t comment about his son’s arrest. Mr. Flanagan couldn’t be reached for comment.
Federal authorities didn’t explain Mr. Dai’s role in the incident but said the 24-year-old helped to conceive and execute the plan. Mr. Dai, who emigrated from China and who grew up in Illinois, was a junior administrator for a federally funded program in 2008 at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., that exposed students to potential careers in intelligence in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Ann Pauley, a spokeswoman at Trinity, said Mr. Dai stopped working at the school when the grant ended, in October 2008. Mr. Dai couldn’t be reached for comment.