Washington, D.C., November 15, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern about the harmful precedent set by recent Federal Bureau of Investigation raids on the homes of Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and his associates.
According to media reports, the FBI seized O’Keefe’s cellphones during a November 6 raid on his home in Mamaroneck, New York, as part of a court-ordered investigation into the theft of a diary belonging to Ashley Biden, U.S. President Joe Biden’s daughter. In a statement, Project Veritas wrote that authorities also raided the apartments and homes of other current and former members of the organization, and confiscated unspecified materials.
Project Veritas acquired the diary in 2020 but turned it over to law enforcement, those media reports said.
Founded by O’Keefe in 2011, Project Veritas is a nonprofit group that conducts exposés on groups it perceives as left-leaning, and has amplified disinformation on topics including COVID-19 vaccines and alleged election fraud, according to the independent nonprofit fact-checking group First Draft.
“While we do not endorse some of the tactics Project Veritas employs, the FBI’s recent raids on the organization’s founder and his associates represent a concerning overreach by law enforcement,” said CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen. “The government must provide a clear link between members of Project Veritas and alleged criminal activity before searching their homes for information about source material. Conducting raids without this kind of link sets a dangerous precedent that could allow law enforcement to search and confiscate reporters’ unpublished source material in vague attempts to identify whistleblowers.”
Some pages of the diary were published on a right-wing blog during the 2020 U.S. presidential election campaign, according to those news reports, which said that the Justice Department under the Trump administration first opened an investigation into the theft.
On a November 10 letter to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in New York, lawyers representing Project Veritas stated that the outlet had received the diary lawfully, the New York Times reported. On November 11, Torres ordered prosecutors to pause their “extraction and review of the contents” of O’Keefe’s phones, according to Politico.
The day after this article was published, Martin Feely, the principal spokesperson for the FBI’s New York bureau, told CPJ in a phone call that the bureau does not comment on ongoing investigations.
A representative from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York told CPJ via phone that the office could not comment on the case.
[Editors’ note: This article has been updated to include the FBI’s response to CPJ’s queries.]