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Nuzzi writes: "James O'Keefe assured me it wasn't a joke. Standing at the lectern at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Tuesday morning, in a charcoal suit and plaid tie, O'Keefe said he was serious. This was a bombshell. This was criminal."

Conservative activist James O'Keefe. (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Conservative activist James O'Keefe. (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)


James O'Keefe Aims at Hillary, Stings Self

By Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast

03 September 15

 

Conservative activist James O’Keefe is so determined to catch Clinton’s campaign breaking the law that his group broke the law to do it.

ames O’Keefe assured me it wasn’t a joke.

Standing at the lectern at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Tuesday morning, in a charcoal suit and plaid tie, O’Keefe said he was serious.   

This was a bombshell.

This was criminal.

O’Keefe is a conservative activist and media celebrity known for producing sting videos targeting liberal organizations and politicians.

His most (only) successful takedown occurred in 2009 when he recorded himself dressed up as a pimp, asking ACORN employees to help him fund his brothel. They took the bait, and after he released the footage, ACORN collapsed.

His other perpetually-costumed truth hunts have failed.

In 2010, he was arrested in New Orleans for trying to make illegal recordings at Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu’s office. Two of the activists accompanying him were dressed up as telephone repairmen. In 2014, he donned an Osama Bin Laden mask and crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to prove how easy it is (Bin Laden had been dead, by this point, for three years).

O’Keefe says he’s a journalist who wants to expose “waste, fraud, abuse, corruption, dishonesty and malfeasance in society,” but he is, at his core, a showman. And if it weren’t so goddamn funny, the “bombshell” he dropped on Tuesday wouldn’t have been much of a show at all.

To the right of O’Keefe’s stage was a TV airing footage from inside Hillary Clinton’s June 7 campaign launch on Roosevelt Island. The camera focused unsteadily, like a scene out of the Blair Witch Project, on Clinton’s merchandise booth, where her campaign sold T-shirts and buttons.

“Hi, can I get a hat and a rainbow button, please?” O’Keefe’s undercover agent, a female whose name he refused to reveal, asked.

O’Keefe, narrating the video, informed us that two women working the booth were in fact high-ranking Clinton staffers: Molly Barker, the national director of marketing for the campaign, and Erin Tibe, the campaign’s national compliance manager.

And then, the bombshell.

When O’Keefe’s undercover agent approached the merchandise booth, she found herself standing next to a Canadian tourist. But when it came the tourist’s turn to make her purchase, there was an issue: Campaigns cannot legally accept donations from non-U.S. citizens.

O’Keefe’s undercover agent, apparently outraged on the Canadian woman’s behalf, protested: “She traveled all the way from Canada to support Hillary!”

But the Canadian woman, whose identity O’Keefe said is unknown (he claims his organization tried to track her down, but was unsuccessful), had a solution: O’Keefe’s undercover agent could just take her money and make the purchase for her.

Upon this suggestion, O’Keefe’s agent asked Barker, “Canadians can’t buy them, but Americans can buy it for them?”

Barker replied, “Not technically. You would just be making the donation.”

Under a false name, according to O’Keefe, his agent gave the campaign $75 in cash.

“These senior Hillary campaign officials are not rookies,” O’Keefe narrated. “They know the ins and outs of the election code, and we’ve shown you that they’re willing to break the law.”

He ended the video with a promise: There would be more bombshells like this one. “Stay tuned, Hillary, and check your email,” he joked.

The video ended with AOL’s “You’ve got mail” alert.

To O’Keefe, this footage is proof that the Clinton campaign is inclined toward criminal behavior. “It’s about the willingness to break the law,” he told the room full of reporters on Tuesday. “It’s not about the amount of money.”

But there is a problem: If Clinton’s campaign broke the law, so did O’Keefe’s organization.

A close reading of the Federal Election Commission’s campaign finance laws makes it clear that campaigns cannot “solicit or accept” donations from foreign nationals, and that individuals cannot “knowingly provide substantial assistance” by “acting as a conduit or intermediary for foreign national contributions and donations.” Individuals can’t legally make donations under a false name, either, meaning that if you’re keeping score: Clinton’s campaign appears to have violated the law once, and O’Keefe’s organization twice.

The FEC said they couldn’t comment on O’Keefe’s video because in order to determine whether or not the law was broken, someone would need to file a complaint against the Clinton campaign and the FEC would need to vote on whether or not they violated the law. Even if O’Keefe did file a complaint, this would never happen because the FEC is dysfunctional.

But O’Keefe admitted to reporters that he didn’t contact the FEC and he doesn’t have plans to file a complaint. Instead, he sent a letter to Clinton’s campaign, in which he seeks to have them return the $75 (though, since O’Keefe doesn’t know who the Canadian tourist is, it seems unlikely that the money will ever be returned to her).

Asked by The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank if they were admitting to breaking the law, O’Keefe’s lawyer said that their offenses were illegal, too, yes, but akin to “jaywalking.”

Clinton’s offenses, though, are gravely criminal. How this adds up, it’s not clear.

Paul Ryan, of the Campaign Legal Center, told me that according to my description of the video, it seemed O’Keefe’s staffer violated the law, and so did Clinton’s staffers who knew the money came from the Canadian tourist.

Clinton’s campaign has not yet responded to a request for comment.

After his bombshell revelation, I asked O’Keefe the obvious question: “Is this a joke? It feels like a prank.”

He replied, “Is this a joke? Well, the Clin­ton cam­paign doesn’t think it’s a joke, be­cause they’re talk­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post about it. And we sent the let­ter to the Clin­ton cam­paign, so no, this is not a joke.”

After stumbling through questions for half an hour and failing to make a convincing case that this was the “bombshell” he promised, O’Keefe’s spokesperson asked, “Olivia, do you have a follow-up?”

Yeah, I said, were they sure this wasn’t a joke?

O’Keefe, now defensive, gave his soaring answer while maintaining eye contact. “Well, you know, I understand where you’re coming from. You’re trying to use ridicule, and I appreciate that…The Hillary campaign disagrees with you. They disagree with you. And I think a lot of people in this room also disagree with you…And I promise you that in the next couple years we’re going to have an army of people, 100 people, across the country investigating everything. And when that happens? These politicians are going to clean up their act. We’re going to create an army of exposers and if you are lying or stealing or cheating, we are going to find you and make you an unwilling Internet celebrity. I’m telling you that right now. And I’m very excited because this is just the beginning! We’ve got more. Every few days we’re gonna release another tape. And you can continue to say it’s a joke, but people are gonna be resigning.”

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+157 # Billy Bob 2015-09-03 08:49
"His most (only) successful takedown occurred in 2009 when he recorded himself dressed up as a pimp, asking ACORN employees to help him fund his brothel. They took the bait, and after he released the footage, ACORN collapsed."

-The problem is that ACORN DIDN'T take the bait. He altered the video, but ACORN STILL collapsed because Republicans never much liked the idea of black people voting. The fact that he committed fraud and that it was later proven, doesn't really matter, because you can't shame the shameless.
 
 
+99 # Jim Rocket 2015-09-03 09:22
Exactly. They didn't show the 20 odd other Acorn offices where they were shown the door.
 
 
+46 # Billsy 2015-09-03 13:06
Excellent point re: ACORN and O'Keefe's selectively edited video. It's a shame the DNC was too weak to fight back and defend the organization rather than defund it. Let's not forget that O'Keefe was charged with a felony (for phone tampering) and convicted of a misdemeanor (for entering a federal building under false pretenses). He was successfully sued for $100,000 for slandering an ACORN employee with his misleading video. He has zero credibility outside the realm of Breitbart's brat pack of "journalists" and is best ignored.
 
 
+6 # Kimc 2015-09-04 16:38
I'm not sure he's "best ignored" because people who want to believe him do believe him: what we need to do is call him out on his dirty dishonest tactics --loudly and long -- and ruin his reputation so that he has to stop doing it. The Democratic Party is extremely wimpy about calling out bad actions on the part of the Republicans, but we have to cure that "being nice" disease they have and take a stand for right and honesty!
 
 
+14 # Vardoz 2015-09-03 16:13
I hope all this breaking of the law applies to the GOP and conservative Democrats too. Guess he can't get anything on Sanders.
 
 
+103 # gdsharpe 2015-09-03 09:17
Breitbart lives on...
And, Billy Bob is correct, ACORN did not do anything wrong, but the video was altered to make it appear so. Hmm... Not at all unlike the recent Planned Parenthood "expose' " videos.
If he wants to expose chicanery, he should turn his cameras to a real target, the Republican Party and conservative leadership. He could save himself a lot of work since he would not need to edit...
 
 
+16 # Billy Bob 2015-09-03 22:04
Wouldn't it be interesting if someone were to follow HIM?!? It could turn this whole thing around, by not only exposing the far-right for what it is, but actually calling attention to their tactics, which could damage them (at least in their current incarnation) irreparably.

Not only that, but wouldn't it be fun and informative to watch several videos of him getting increasingly irritated that he's being watched? Of course he could file for a restraining order, but wouldn't that also be a fun way to showcase his hypocrisy?
 
 
+52 # reiverpacific 2015-09-03 09:23
I'd never heard of this "conservative (read "reactionary") activist and media celebrity" before the subject article but if he gets to wear the title of "Journalist" -even if self-proclaimed -, no wonder the US media is increasingly losing credibility.
It's also typical to the almost unbelievable, torturous lengths to which the GOP/US right dirty tricks machinery and mentality will go in the name of it's war agains populism and reason.
I'm glad that this prat's efforts are seemingly disappearing up his own heavy-polluted smoke hole!
 
 
+69 # bardphile 2015-09-03 09:50
Right. The party that swiftboated John Kerry in '04 and still crows about it now can have no shame over a bottom-feeder like O'Keefe. Their aim, now as before, is to prevent the majority from exercising its constitutional power. No tactic is too low if they think they can get away with it.
 
 
+39 # maddave 2015-09-03 10:25
O'Keefe is a sophomoric idiot with a camera who gets a lot of play from the equally sophomoric and vicious right-wing press. I would hope that Planned Parenthood sues the shit out of him and "his organization" for slander, defamation or whatever under whatever laws exist against knowingly and maliciously manufacturing and publishing patently false material as fact.
If corporations are "people", Planned Parenthood ought to prevail.
 
 
+14 # gdsharpe 2015-09-03 11:33
" ...slander, defamation or whatever under whatever laws exist against knowingly and maliciously manufacturing and publishing patently false material as fact."
Well, let's see, there's Fox "News", the entire neoconservative political machine, and...
Good luck with that!
 
 
+5 # Kimc 2015-09-04 16:41
Lying in public is no longer illegal, but it should be.
 
 
-53 # moafu@yahoo.com 2015-09-03 10:04
Seems kinda petty, doesn't it? and I am absolutely on the opposite end of the spectrum from Clinton's.

Nevertheless, isn't this similar to the hidden camera illegally invading a private fundraising dinner by a so-called waiter who recorded Mitt Romney's 2% comment (or whatever the percent was).

The pettiness is obtuse on both sides.

Frankly - damn I hate that word - but, Frankly.....Joe Biden (for all his gaffes etc) seems to be the only human being on the scene who could bring both sides of the political spectrum together to think about the nation and not their own PETTY plans. and I'm a Conservative.
 
 
+33 # warrior woman 2015-09-03 10:23
That would be the 47% comment.
 
 
+52 # bmiluski 2015-09-03 11:23
Except moafu....the Romney video was NOT heavily edited nor was Romney "baited" with questions by someone impersonating a supporter.
 
 
+15 # Billy Bob 2015-09-03 22:05
THANK YOU! Romney was merely outed for who and what he truly is.
 
 
+3 # Cassandra2012 2015-09-06 13:53
Quoting Billy Bob:
THANK YOU! Romney was merely outed for who and what he truly is.

Yes, an out and out vulutre capitalist and sociopath that worships money and has no empathy for others not of the Mammon (oops,Mormon) faith ... .
 
 
+12 # reiverpacific 2015-09-03 11:31
Quoting moafu@yahoo.com:
Seems kinda petty, doesn't it? and I am absolutely on the opposite end of the spectrum from Clinton's.

Nevertheless, isn't this similar to the hidden camera illegally invading a private fundraising dinner by a so-called waiter who recorded Mitt Romney's 2% comment (or whatever the percent was).

The pettiness is obtuse on both sides.

Frankly - damn I hate that word - but, Frankly.....Joe Biden (for all his gaffes etc) seems to be the only human being on the scene who could bring both sides of the political spectrum together to think about the nation and not their own PETTY plans. and I'm a Conservative.


You're a PITIABLE reactionary and COWARD with it, as you never respond to any challenge to y'r PETTY posts snidely slipped into this free speech forum from the shadows before you scuttle back to whatever cave you exist in.
Why don't you save y'r wasted energy and stay in that hole or cave?!
 
 
+17 # bmiluski 2015-09-03 12:19
He/she is a troll, reiverpacific. And trolls by their very nature have to come out from under the bridge/cave to take a shit.
 
 
+14 # Grizzled 2015-09-03 14:11
I think moafu's analogy is a little weak, but I have to agree with moafu on one point. There is a lot of petty responses on this site, which I think are counter productive. I'm a left leaning sort. Back in the day when I voted for Jimmy Carter, I was considered a moderate. In the current environment, I'm a liberal, apparently. Everything else aside, if we don't start having a few serious, polite, and constructive conversations with those with whom we disagree, then we never establish common cause with our fellow citizens. Sounds a little altruistic, but that's how you get things done.
 
 
+4 # bmiluski 2015-09-03 15:29
I wholeheartedly agree with you Grizzled. However, the dissenters on this site make crude unsubstantiated claims, i.e. moafu's analogy. None of those people actually respond when challenged. And that's because they are usually just trolls that like to or are paid to throw excrement around.
 
 
+10 # Billy Bob 2015-09-03 22:15
You nailed it. Grizzled is absolutely right, in one sense. We ALL could use a little brushing up on our manners, and to bring Jimmy Carter up is very appropriate. There's a use for having respectful discourse and treating each other with dignity.

But,

Jimmy Carter was trounced for doing just that, by a predatory slime who used Carter's inherent decency against him (remember Reagan stealing Carter's debate notes, then using his sound-bite zinger "there you go again"? Remember Reagan committing treason behind Carter's back to make a deal with the Ayatolla?)

Also, your summary of what trolls are and what they do is just an acknowledgement of reality. When right-wingers defend themselves with facts, or at least verifiable links and an honest effort to argue in good-faith, it'll be easier to see them as something other than trolls.

I tend to think "trolling" comes from a FISHING analogy (rather than a fairy-tale one).

The whole point of "trolling" in fishing, is to lure as many fish as possible while slowly baiting from as many angles as possible.

Doesn't that sound familiar?
 
 
+6 # lfeuille 2015-09-03 17:18
Quoting Grizzled:
I think moafu's analogy is a little weak, but I have to agree with moafu on one point. There is a lot of petty responses on this site, which I think are counter productive. I'm a left leaning sort. Back in the day when I voted for Jimmy Carter, I was considered a moderate. In the current environment, I'm a liberal, apparently. Everything else aside, if we don't start having a few serious, polite, and constructive conversations with those with whom we disagree, then we never establish common cause with our fellow citizens. Sounds a little altruistic, but that's how you get things done.


Politeness doesn't work. It just ends up with nothing changing. Polite debare will not bring about a political revolution which is what most of us think is needed.
 
 
+17 # gdsharpe 2015-09-03 11:37
THAT recording was not edited for the purposes of changing the content to look (or sound) like something that it really wasn't. The ACORN video and now the Planned Parenthood video were edited to change the focus and meaning of the actual recordings.
 
 
+22 # gdsharpe 2015-09-03 11:39
Don't discount Sanders, who is probably the only honest and transparent politician in the country. And his agenda is right on track for the "lower" and "middle" classes.
 
 
-12 # curmudgeon 2015-09-03 17:00
Before you find out Sanders is possibly another 'Obama'

Check this commentary for eye-opening due diligence on his words/actions..

Apparently Sanders is deeply in love with many Obama policies...i.e. drone warfare amongst them.


http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/09/02/strange-words-from-st-bernard-and-the-sandernistas/
 
 
+3 # Kimc 2015-09-04 22:11
Are you going to wait for the perfect candidate before you vote for them? You'll wait forever. Or just run yourself so you'll generally agree with the candidate. Bernie is as close to a real guy as you'll ever see in politics. So what if we don't agree with every little thing -- he's miles ahead of the other candidates -- and light years ahead of any Republican candidate.
 
 
+2 # Cassandra2012 2015-09-06 13:57
Yes, Sanders is the only candidate running who has integrity honesty, and real constructive ideas. And if we all support him, will not be a mere corporate shill...
 
 
+9 # gdsharpe 2015-09-03 11:42
And, lastly, PLEASE do not use an apostrophe for a plural. An apostrophe is used only for possessives and for contractions.
So: Clintons not Clinton's.
Were you home schooled in the South?
 
 
+5 # djnova50 2015-09-03 14:25
gdsharpe, if you are referring to moafu's sentence: ...I am absolutely on the opposite end of the spectrum from Clinton's.

It does make sense to have the apostrophe. Moafu writes that he's on the opposite end of the spectrum from Clinton's. Obviously, if you finish the sentence, it would be "Clinton's end of the spectrum." It is showing possession of the end of the spectrum.
 
 
+1 # bardphile 2015-09-03 15:02
Yes; and apostrophes are used to form plurals in the case of letters and numbers, as in "there are two n's in Clinton." Grammar nitpicking aside, gdsharpe makes the relevant points.
 
 
+3 # lfeuille 2015-09-03 17:22
Quoting bardphile:
Yes; and apostrophes are used to form plurals in the case of letters and numbers, as in "there are two n's in Clinton." Grammar nitpicking aside, gdsharpe makes the relevant points.


Personally, I can't get past the grammar nitpicking. I only care about the meaning and it was not obscured in this case. Sometimes incorrect grammar distorts meaning, but it doesn't in this case.
 
 
+2 # TLS 2015-09-03 19:41
I'm originally from Pennsylvania--m oved to Texas in 1980 and home schooled my son. He has excellent grammar, spelling and vocabulary. He's smarter and more driven than about 100% of his public school friends and is making A's and B's at his New York university. Being home schooled does not make you stupid, but making generalizations does.
 
 
+4 # ericlipps 2015-09-03 18:31
Quoting moafu@yahoo.com:
Seems kinda petty, doesn't it? and I am absolutely on the opposite end of the spectrum from Clinton's.

Nevertheless, isn't this similar to the hidden camera illegally invading a private fundraising dinner by a so-called waiter who recorded Mitt Romney's 2% comment (or whatever the percent was).

The pettiness is obtuse on both sides.

Frankly - damn I hate that word - but, Frankly.....Joe Biden (for all his gaffes etc) seems to be the only human being on the scene who could bring both sides of the political spectrum together to think about the nation and not their own PETTY plans. and I'm a Conservative.

Actually, Romney was whining about 47% of the American electorate, who, he said. he could never get to take responsibility for their lives. And prove it by voting for him, I suppose.
 
 
+24 # tedrey 2015-09-03 10:10
It's worse than these comments so far indicate.
O'Keefe himself participated in breaking a law, persuaded others to break a law, filmed both misdemeanors, and is boasting about it, promising he will do this many more times. Sure the Clinton staff should be appropriately sanctioned . . . but so should O'Keefe . . . every time!
 
 
+34 # MikeToo 2015-09-03 10:13
If it looks like a weasel, if it acts like a weasel, if it smells like a weasel, it is probably a weasel. Let's see here . . . Yup! James O'Keefe, you are a weasel! I find it stunning that anyone would think this is a great way to use his/her life.
 
 
+10 # bmiluski 2015-09-03 11:24
I find it stunning that people are still showing up to his press conferences.
 
 
+9 # bingers 2015-09-03 13:16
Quoting MikeToo:
If it looks like a weasel, if it acts like a weasel, if it smells like a weasel, it is probably a weasel. Let's see here . . . Yup! James O'Keefe, you are a weasel! I find it stunning that anyone would think this is a great way to use his/her life.



You are demeaning an entire class of critters who, among other things, provide beautiful fur coats. Not hat I approve of fur coats, but the critters don't do so willingly, so I don't blame them.
 
 
+3 # Billy Bob 2015-09-04 05:46
Maybe O'Keefe's hide would serve more purpose than he ever has.
 
 
+33 # jimmyjames 2015-09-03 10:13
O'Keefe is such a dick. I can envision him paying a kid to shoplift some candy and then point out how bad the kid was for doing it.
 
 
+19 # DD1946 2015-09-03 10:51
Which immediately brought to mind the FBI and CIA set up stings that happen quite often. And that's supposed to be a valid way to "keep us safe".
 
 
+11 # John Puma 2015-09-03 11:54
"(H)is group broke the law to do it."

This is not news. His group generally always breaks the law and that's not counting what is done: fraud
 
 
+9 # mscw42 2015-09-03 12:32
What about those corporations now deemed 'People'? Many of them are multi-national yet they use large sums of money for political advertising. Contributions in kind from foreign persons is just as illegal. How about the management of these PACs being investigated by O'Keefe, or better yet by the FEC or Justice Department!
 
 
+13 # PABLO DIABLO 2015-09-03 13:20
O'Keefe just wants his "15 minutes of fame". Being an asshole means you never have to apologize. Sad about ACORN and PLANNED PARENTHOOD as both do such good work.
 
 
+12 # Blackjack 2015-09-03 14:03
"Being an asshole means you never have to apologize." That just about sums up the entire Republican Party!
 
 
+3 # Kimc 2015-09-04 22:20
Quoting Blackjack:
"Being an asshole means you never have to apologize." That just about sums up the entire Republican Party!


It's worse than that. The Republicans and the rest of the right has been subsumed by some vast wave of an evil force. We must call it out. Read about it, and then do something about it: http://nonesoblind.org/advancecopy/
 
 
+7 # Vardoz 2015-09-03 16:23
Lets hope that all these anti Democratic sentiments translates into votes for Bernie Sanders.
 
 
+6 # Dongi 2015-09-03 19:27
O'Keefe is a bottom feeder for sure. The way to handle this scum bag is to sue the hell out of him every time he plays his dirty tricks. The pressure should be unremitting especially when he doctors videos. The bastard should pay and pay dearly.
 
 
+4 # Billy Bob 2015-09-05 00:15
Yes! There's a limit to how much he could handle "being the martyr". If he faced serious legal consequences each and every time, he'd simply run out of steam. This would require "on message" discipline from the left, and I've never seen the left work together on anything at all, and especially not on something so seemingly inconsequential as this loser.
 
 
+3 # CL38 2015-09-05 09:10
He wasn't making a joke. He IS the joke.
 
 
+2 # Billy Bob 2015-09-05 23:21
Then, I guess it was his parents, who "made" the joke.
 

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