History repeats itself today as the FBI arrests four people attempting to access the telephones in the district office of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). David Hammer of The Times-Picayune is reporting that the the right-wing "gotcha" man, James O'Keefe, who orchestrated the effort to discredit ACORN via spliced video footage last year, is one of those who were arrested in the plot against a sitting U.S. Senator who is up for election later this year.
The FBI believes O'Keefe aided and abetted Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, "who dressed up as employees of a telephone company and attempted to interfere with the office's telephone system," thus entering federal property under false pretenses, at a minimum. O'Keefe was purportedly present for the attempting bugging or unlawful access to the Senator's phone lines and claimed to be waiting for someone.
Just last week O'Keefe gave a speech to the "Pelican Institute," which praised his controversial and discredited work against ACORN by suggesting that he "has been a pioneer in the use of new media to drive these kinds of important stories. He will discuss the role of new media and show examples of effective investigative reporting." If felony wiretapping is the "new" media, there's a lot to be worried about.
So, let's get to the questions. Who is funding O'Keefe's "work?" Is there a slush fund enabling this, or is it coming directly from corporations or corporate foundations? We do know that he has previously received funding from the billionaire PayPal founder and Facebook investor, Peter Thiel, according to the Village Voice. That is not to suggest that Thiel funded this unlawful effort; simply that he previously provided some funding for O'Keefe. Who is funding O'Keefe nowadays?
Notably, O'Keefe has been a darling of the far-right establishment. He was a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convention in 2007. Here's a clip of how that event was described: "'Conservative Victories with New Media' Empire Ballroom John Ziegler, KFI Matt Sheffield, NewsBusters.org/Media Research Center Erick Erickson, RedState.org James O'Keefe, The Leadership Institute David All, David All Group Moderator: Rob Bluey, The Heritage Foundation."
This year, O'Keefe was a finalist for CPAC's Ronald Reagan Award at the annual convention. (I wouldn't have been surprised if O'Keefe had been given that "distinction" since the award previously was given to Manny Miranda, the top aide to then-Republican Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist, after Manny was forced to resign as the Senate investigated his own Watergate-style operations, which involved taking copies of my confidential files and those of my colleagues who staffed the Senate Judiciary Committee.)
Stay tuned for more on this tale of Watergate redux. Meanwhile, it seems prudent for others up for re-election to get their offices swept for bugs and be on the lookout for other machinations. The political climate seems ripe for these sorts of unlawful dirty tricks.
--Update/Clarification, as of 8:30 CST--
The first news reports mentioned that O'Keefe and his crew were attempting to bug or wiretap the Senator's office (a "plot to wiretap"), but it appears the first set of charges relate to using false pretenses to enter a federal building. The FBI's affidavit, however, describes how O'Keefe's agents pretended to work for the phone company and accessed the telephones and wires and attempted to access the cabinet containing the main phone lines. I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist, or expert in telephony, to understand that to be a possible attempt to wiretap her phone lines. It appears they have not yet been charged with that offense, however. Here is the link to the sworn statement of the FBI.
Additionally, one commenter points out that FOX News has posted an unspliced version of last year's ACORN video on its site. I'm not sure that video has been authenticated, but I wanted to make readers aware of this information.
--Update/Clarification as of January 29, 2010--
O'Keefe has claimed that an unnamed official has confirmed that O'Keefe's gang was not trying to wiretap the Senator's phones but was attempting to disrupt them. The original story by the Times-Picayune noted that bugging was suspected and also that "An official close to the investigation said one of the four was arrested with a listening device in a car blocks from the senator's offices." So, the post has been updated to reflect the latest information, from unnamed officials.