Politico published the first article in an establishment media publication on Saturday questioning the legitimacy of the FBI’s recent raid on the home of Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and warning that it could be a “threat to press freedom.”
The raid took place last Saturday at O’Keefe’s home in New York, and ostensibly involved a search for clues about a stolen diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley, which Project Veritas says it obtained legally and which it did not use in any media coverage, turning it over to law enforcement last year instead.
Politico‘s Josh Gerstein wrote:
The Biden administration’s effort to establish itself as a committed champion of press freedom is facing new doubts because of the Justice Department’s aggressive legal tactics against a conservative provocateur known for his hidden-camera video stings.
A predawn FBI raid last weekend against Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and similar raids on some of his associates are prompting alarm from some First Amendment advocates, who contend that prosecutors appear to have run roughshod over Justice Department media policies and a federal law protecting journalists.
“This is just beyond belief,” said University of Minnesota law professor Jane Kirtley, a former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I’m not a big fan of Project Veritas, but this is just over the top. I hope they get a serious reprimand from the court because I think this is just wrong.”
At the center of the gathering legal storm is a pivotal question: Is O’Keefe a journalist in the eyes of the law?
Lawyers tracking the case say the publicly available facts suggest two possibilities: the Justice Department deemed O’Keefe did not qualify as a journalist under DOJ guidelines and federal law known as the Privacy Protection Act, or concluded that he was a member of the media, but that Project Veritas’ personnel may still have committed a crime.
In recent years, leading Democrats have proposed clamping down on the independent press by declaring that the government should be able to define who is, and who is not, a “journalist” for the purposes of press freedom.
In his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Merrick Garland promised not to allow the Department of Justice to become politicized — a commitment that has been questioned in recent weeks.C-SPAN
Until now, the media had been quiet about the O’Keefe raid, or had even celebrated it. The New York Times reported it almost right away, and later published an article based on leaked memoranda written by Project Veritas lawyers.
It is not clear that the memos were leaked by law enforcement, but one of the journalists who contributed to the story, Michael S. Schmidt, was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of a supposed link between Russia and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, which is now seen as a hoax. The Times and the Washington Post relied on leaks from law enforcement and intelligence agencies to report the hoax.
On Thursday, a federal judge barred the Department of Justice from obtaining further information from O’Keefe’s smartphone pending a hearing on the appointment of a “special master” who would review the materials seized by the FBI in the raid, and bar the government from using anything that implicated attorney-client privilege or other rights.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.