January 29th, 2010
12:45 PM ET
12 years ago

Activist proclaims innocence in Landrieu office incident

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/29/art.landrieu.05.gi.jpg caption= "Activist proclaims innocence in Landrieu office incident."]

(CNN) - Conservative activist James O'Keefe said Friday that the government had "confirmed" that he did not try to wiretap or bug the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana.

He offered no evidence to back his assertion.

O'Keefe, 25, Joseph Basel, 24, Robert Flanagan, 24, and Stan Dai, 24, were charged Tuesday with entering Landrieu's New Orleans office - which is federal property - under "false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony," according to a news release from the local U.S. attorney's office.

Calling himself an "investigative journalist," O'Keefe claimed he was trying to test the credibility of a claim by Landrieu that her office had been unable to field calls from constituents opposed to her stance on the Senate
health care bill because her phone lines had been "jammed for weeks."

Landrieu voted in favor of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's health care bill in December after receiving a promise of significant additional federal funding for her home state in a deal critics labeled the "Louisiana purchase."

"I decided to investigate why a representative of the people would be out of touch with her constituents for 'weeks' because her phones were broken," he said in a statement released on the conservative Web site biggovernment.com.

"In investigating this matter, we decided to visit Sen. Landrieu's district office - the people's office - to ask the staff if their phones were working."

O'Keefe claimed that "sole intent" of his "investigation was to determine whether or not Sen. Landrieu was purposely trying to avoid constituents who were calling to register their views to her as their senator."

"On reflection," he added, "I could have used a different approach ... particularly given the sensitivities that people understandably have about security in a federal building."

O'Keefe said he had "taped the entire visit, the government has those tapes, and I'm eager for them to be released because they refute the false claims being repeated by much of the mainstream media."

He also slammed various news organizations, including MSNBC and the Washington Post, for what he claimed was inaccurate coverage of the events surrounding his arrest.

"The public will judge whether reporters who can't get their facts straight have the credibility to question my integrity as a journalist," he said.

Basel and Flanagan attempted to gain access to Landrieu's office Monday while posing as telephone repairmen. The two men were "each dressed in blue denim pants, a blue work shirt, a light green fluorescent vest, a tool belt and a construction-style hard hat when they entered the Hale Boggs Federal Building," the release noted.

After they entered the building, the two men told a staffer in Landrieu's office they were telephone repairmen, according to the release and a news release from the U.S. attorney's office and an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Steven Rayes. They then asked for - and were granted - access to the reception desk's phone system.

O'Keefe, who had been waiting in the office before the pair arrived, recorded their actions with a cell phone, said Rayes' affidavit.

Landrieu said Thursday that the four men had "embarrassed themselves and their families."

In a statement released by her office, the Democratic senator also called claims by the men's lawyers that their clients were trying to embarrass her staff "a clear and calculated effort to divert attention away" from the crime itself.

"The fact remains that they perpetrated a false identity scheme on building security by posing as telephone workers and attempting to manipulate the phone in her office," the statement said, saying those involved could face up to 10 years in prison for the federal crime.

O'Keefe is the same conservative activist who dressed as a pimp last summer and visited the office of ACORN, which bills itself as an advocacy group for low and middle income families, to solicit advice on setting up a brothel, among other scenarios, law enforcement officials confirmed. He secretly recorded the visits on videotapes that were posted on the Internet, leading to a media firestorm.

Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, the acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, his office said.

Articles on conservative Web sites connect O'Keefe to a man named Joe Basel, describing them as conservative student activists and filmmakers.

Filed under: Mary Landrieu • Senate
soundoff (58 Responses)

    they broke the law . they should be in jail that was a terriost act .reguardless to who their parents are

    January 29, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  2. KJ

    If the phones were jammed, why didn't he simply call Rush or Beck to publicize the issue? I am no fan of Acorn but it does make you question his earlier actions. I believe when the facts are fully known this was more than simply a prank gone awry!

    January 29, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  3. carlos

    send all four criminals to the can for a LONG TIME

    January 29, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  4. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    Are all conservatives this slimy? Of course!

    O'Keefe is not the brightest bulb on the Fox tree, but he needs to pay for the choices he made. (up to 10 years)

    January 29, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  5. I am Newt Limebaugh

    SURRRREEE!!!....just a kid pulling a prank and if that is true then Rush Limebaugh wins the Humanitarian award of the year and Newt gingrich remains faithful to one woman for the rest of his life and sarah Palin is not money motivated.....barf!!!

    January 29, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  6. Franky, Land of Lincoln

    I just wanna say this is uncalled for and Fox News should stress their own people with accountability, action and demeanor. This is not cool.

    I don't watch it cause I don't have it because is expensive but they should be held accountable for what Conservatives in general say or do, just like what happen to Ensign, which gives a bad image to the GOP and that's just a few.

    It is irresponsible and uncalled for, we don't believe in that.

    January 29, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  7. Brice Kibler

    Dirty politics, journalistic excuses for criminal behavior, ulterior motives are antics we must not allow in our society. Theirs was not investigative reporting. Lying and deception are not professional tactics. Punishment must be given perpetrators of crimes, no matter the political persuasion or powerful backing.

    January 29, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  8. Patrick

    How can they possibly claim innocence? They got dressed up as phone workers, claimed they were phone workers and tried to mess with the phones. Just because they were incompetent at it doesn't mean they didn't try.

    January 29, 2010 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
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