Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe’s legal team blasted the government for a “sucker punch to the First Amendment,” praising unlikely allies and mainstream journalists who have questioned if the Justice Department overreached by raiding the homes of O’Keefe and his associates.
The FBI reportedly raided O’Keefe and some associates on Nov. 6 because of the alleged diary belonging to President Biden’s daughter Ashley Biden, which ended up in the hands of Project Veritas last fall, though the organization decided against publishing it and turned it over to law enforcement.
An assortment of prominent organizations, reporters and news outlets, including the ACLU and Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, have since come to the defense of Project Veritas, a conservative group that typically wouldn’t receive support from corporate media. Fox News Digital reached out to O’Keefe to ask about being defended by unlikely allies, and the Project Veritas founder directed the question to his legal team.
“The government’s raids of Project Veritas’s former journalists, and of founding journalist James O’Keefe, were a sucker punch to the First Amendment, intended to have a chilling effect on a free press,” attorney Paul Calli told Fox News Digital.
“The government failed, and we are gratified by the powerful response of the ACLU, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, First Amendment champions, and journalists in the corporate mainstream press, to condemn the government’s actions,” Calli continued. “History will judge those standing together for the First Amendment, in the right.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Sunday warned against the potential consequences of the raids.
“Project Veritas has engaged in disgraceful deceptions, and reasonable observers might not consider their activities to be journalism at all,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Nevertheless, the precedent set in this case could have serious consequences for press freedom.”
Project Veritas, which frames itself as a whistleblower watchdog group, previously has released hidden camera footage of network news producers and other public figures making statements while unaware they were being recorded. As a result of its tactics, some critics don’t consider the organization a true journalism outfit – but the ACLU doesn’t feel that’s a reason to raid homes of O’Keefe and associates.
“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 ACLU 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.”
Many others have also rushed to Project Veritas’ defense.
Politico quoted University of Minnesota law professor Jane Kirtley, a former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who described the raids as “just beyond belief.”
She went on, “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.”
The Justice Department claimed it “complied with all applicable regulations and policies regarding potential members of the news media in the course of this investigation,” but Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has asked for proof.
“I’m sorry, but this is worrying from a press freedom perspective–unless & until DOJ releases evidence Protect Veritas was directly involved in the theft. Because if there is none, then the raids could very well be a violation of the Privacy Protection Act,” Freedom of the Press Foundation director Trevor Timm recently tweeted.
Wemple agreed, penning a Washington Post piece on Tuesday that raised the question of whether the Justice Department overreached with the raid. A Wall Street Journal opinion piece declared the Justice Department “had better have good reason for seizing a journalist’s records,” calling the move a “civil-liberties abuse.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the government overreached, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wanted the court to unseal documents related to the warrant.
Speaking to Fox News host Sean Hannity about the raid last week, O’Keefe said, “I’ve heard ‘the process is the punishment.’ I didn’t really understand what that meant until this weekend. And Sean, I wouldn’t wish this on any journalist.”
O’Keefe said he was “in a state of shock” as FBI agents spent over two hours searching his apartment, telling Hannity they took two of his iPhones.
Fox News’ Jon Brown and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.