WASHINGTON — A jury in a federal civil case on Thursday found that Project Veritas, a conservative group known for its deceptive tactics, had violated wiretapping laws and fraudulently presented itself as part of a protracted operation against Democratic political advisers.
The jury awarded the consulting firm, Democracy Partners, $120,000. The decision amounted to a sharp rebuke of the practices that Project Veritas and its founder, James O’Keefe, have relied on. During the trial, Project Veritas lawyers depicted the operation as newsgathering and its associates as journalists following the facts.
“Hopefully today’s decision will help discourage Mr. O’Keefe and others from conducting these kinds of political espionage operations and publishing selectively edited, deceptive videos in the future,” said Robert Creamer, a co-founder of Democracy Partners. , in a statement. a statement after the jury had reached a verdict.
Project Veritas said it would appeal the decision.
According to testimony and documents submitted at the trial, in 2016 Project Veritas carried out a plan to infiltrate Democracy Partners, who were working through the Democratic National Committee for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
As part of the ruse, a Project Veritas employee posing as a wealthy donor named Charles Roth told Mr. Creamer that he wanted to make a $20,000 donation to a progressive group that was also a client of Mr. creamer.
Later, the man posing as Mr. Roth to Mr. Creamer that his niece was interested in continuing her work in Democratic circles. After the money was transferred to the group from a foreign account in Belize, Mr. Creamer with the woman who played Mr. Roth’s niece played and offered her an unpaid internship at Democracy Partners.
The niece used a fake name and email account along with a fake resume. In his book “American Pravda,” Mr. O’Keefe wrote that the “donation definitely made the wheels fat.”
The agent, whose real name is Allison Maass, was secretly recording conversations and recording documents while working at Democracy Partners. She then provided the information to her superiors at Project Veritas, who edited the videos and made them public.
The videos suggested that Mr. Creamer and another man, Scott Foval, were developing a plan to provoke violence by supporters of Donald J. Trump during his rallies. Mr Creamer’s lawsuit said the “video was heavily edited and contained commentary by O’Keefe drawing false conclusions.” According to documents filed in court in the case, the man who played Mr. Roth had proposed an “illegal voter registration system, and Creamer flatly dismissed it as illegal.”
The lawsuit alleged that Mr. Creamer lost more than $500,000 in contracts due to the deception behind the Project Veritas operation.
How Times reporters cover politics. We trust that our journalists are independent observers. So while Times employees may vote, they may not support or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, a political candidate or election cause.
Joseph E. Sandler, a Democracy Partners attorney, said during opening arguments last week that Mr. O’Keefe was a “strong supporter” for Mr. Trump and had tried to tip the scales in his favor during the US election. 2016. The operation, Sandler said, was “all carried out with the primary aim of embarrassing Hillary Clinton and electing Donald Trump.”
He described the elaborate operation as a “scrupulous web of lies conjured up by Project Veritas.”
According to an email and pilot exhibit from Project Veritas, Mr. O’Keefe offered cash bonuses to his employees to obtain incriminating statements, and $2,500 bonuses if Mr. Trump featured their videos in the presidential debates later that October. The email has been marked as ‘highly confidential’.
During the trial, Mr. Sandler said that Project Veritas was trying to “discover what they made up on their own.”
Paul A. Calli, a Project Veritas attorney, argued that the videos were newsworthy and pointed out that media outlets had published stories about the undercover operation. He said the lawsuit was just “sour grapes”.
In his closing statement, Mr. Calli said Project Veritas had engaged in “deceit, deceit and dishonesty”. The group used those tactics, he said, so that Project Veritas can “speak the truth to power.”
He said there was no evidence that this was a political espionage operation and that the lawsuit was an attack on journalism.
“The sole purpose of the operation was journalism,” said Mr. calli.
Prior to the trial, a federal judge ruled that Democracy Partners could call Project Veritas’ conduct a “political spy operation.”
Project Veritas faces legal battles on several fronts. In August, some of its former employees sued the group, portraying a “highly sexualized” work culture in which daytime drinking and drug use were common and workers extra hours worked without pay.
That same month, two Florida residents pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to stealing a diary from the president’s daughter, Ashley Biden, and selling it to Project Veritas. According to court documents, prosecutors alleged that a Project Veritas employee ordered the defendants to steal additional items to authenticate the diary and paid them additional money upon receipt.
No charges have been filed against Project Veritas or any of its associates in the Ashley Biden case, and the group has never published the journal. But as a sign that the investigation into the group will continue, authorities said one of the Florida residents had agreed to cooperate. As part of that investigation, FBI agents conducted court-authorized searches of three homes belonging to Project Veritas employees, including Mr. O’Keefe, last year.
Project Veritas was also ordered in August to pay Stanford University about $150,000 in legal fees after a federal judge dismissed the defamation lawsuit the group filed in 2021.
Project Veritas also has an ongoing defamation case against The New York Times.