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)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    If their was surveillance equipment, then Mr. Okeefe's claims don't add up. Someone was videotaping the incident which is clearly breaking the law. They can be charged with trespassing if all else fails.

    January 29, 2010 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  2. not alone

    sounds like spy's using the back plan if they got caught.lol three of spys have connections to the intelligence cummunity and they knew what they was doing.BTW theis are men and not kids or boys, 24 and 25 yearolds with collage degrees. They did the crim and now need to do the time.

    January 29, 2010 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  3. Dustin

    I don't think that any credible journalist would go to the lengths that this man has. Undercover video is one thing, but to intentionally try and draw your subject offsides with entrapment really tends to hurt the credibility of your story.

    In the ACORN incident the gentleman happened to expose a few people in that organization of being knuckleheads, but I don't think that it is fair to claim that the entire ACORN organization is corrupt.

    In this case he got arrested. Not sound jounalism if you ask me.

    January 29, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  4. Tom in Wheaton, Illinois

    If James O'Keefe is an "investigative journalist", then I'm a Supreme Court Justice.

    January 29, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  5. Jane/Seattle

    This lady exposes herself daily. Good thing. Some folks just refuse to see other possible viewpoints in a rush to make others wrong.

    January 29, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  6. glenn eveingham

    This is a serious crime no two ways about.This is worse than watergate.Playing stupid wont work.I wonder who else he is connected to like fox news,Beck,Hannity?

    January 29, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  7. Chrissy

    I read another news article where O'Keefe's attorney said "They're jsut kids. They really didn't know what they were going."
    Uh, since when are 24 year olds "just kids"?
    Obviously they're stupid or aggorant to break into a Senator's office at a federal building. Or maybe both.
    Didn't they learn from Nixon?

    January 29, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  8. Bob

    This is a very interesting case.

    I find it disingenuous for these young men to try and obtain information about why staffers were not answering calls that questioned the Senator's decision to support the Health Care Reform Bill.

    As I understand it, there was some political favor for her vote and they were probably trying to get to the heart of that.

    Regardless, it was a criminal act, that will lead to a trial. I'm sure they will plead, Not Guilty. This will lead to a trial that will gain national attention. That, in itself will be detrimental to the Senator and not put her in better standing with her constituency.

    January 29, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. Peggy - Tx

    On reflection," he added, "I could have used a different approach ..." Yes that was the original intent of the prison system cerated so many years ago in Penn. to encourge individuals to reflect on thier crimes agaisnt society. O'Keefe can spend the next ten years reflecting along with others who cross the legal line and step on the rights of others. For these white guys to be let off easy would be an insult as pur judical system does not hesitate to often toss minorities in jail for years for what is often argued by many to be bad or unfair state and federal laws for what are often are transgressions that only hurt the sensibilities of others. It would also let would be domestic and forgien terrorist to think that federal buildings are easily targets. We need to set an example by these idots.

    January 29, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  10. Ren from Baltimore

    Hey, O'Keefe, there are plenty of ways to check if her office had been lying. No need to go and break the law!! What squirmy behavior on your parts, all four of you. You did your "principles" no good at all here, by putting yourselves above the law like this.

    The means here could have led to terrible harm, and your games have to stop. Be an adult about it, not a sneaky child.

    January 29, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  11. Jim

    Did he mention that there is a gag order in the case and he should keep his big mouth shut? Contrary to his statement, the public does not decide these issues. That's why we have a criminal justice system. Idiot!

    January 29, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  12. Thinker

    They need to go to jail. They are criminals, not reporters, or true activists.

    January 29, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  13. Ann

    Well, I hope during the trial Landrieu's office plays some typical messages that other "conservative activists" left, and let the jury decide how much time her office should devote to engaging with them, as opposed to doing the people's work.

    You can and should contact your representative with your opinions, recommendations, and complaints. But those shouldn't be 10-minute delusional rants full of invective and threats. Before people judge her office staff for not responding quickly enough to callers, they should have a clear idea of what kinds of calls we're talking about.

    Flanagan is an idealistic young man whose patriotic impusles and courage have been perverted by hateful ideology. He's angry because he's been brainwashed; and his attacks are misdirected. He thinks he's Matthew Arnold, but he's the Taliban instead.

    He probably won't go to jail, given his father's connections. Hope he doesn't – he'll just learn to build bombs there. But he should be sentenced to do something truly useful with his life, something that requires that he be less narcissistic and entitled. A stint in the Peace Corps. Working with disabled children (supervised, of course). Something where he can learn that the "other" is not dirty, lazy, evil, or stupid. Somewhere that he can detox from the perverted church he belongs to.

    January 29, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  14. Personal responsibility, please.

    He could get a trespassing charge, but unless there is evidence that he was wiretapping, he should be fine.

    Checking the phone lines isn't a crime.

    January 29, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  15. Mark

    Modern day "journalists" like O'Keefe, (who I would not even consider a journalist) too often make themselves a part of the story rather than just reporting on the issues at hand. Both sides of the spectrum tend to slant their writing to paint the story as they would like it seen rather than just let people make up their minds. People wonder why we have the extreme divisiveness in our country need look no further than how our media is structured to divide rather than to inform.

    January 29, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  16. Fitz in Texas

    Good for you Mr. O'Keefe, Mr. Flanagan, Mr. Basel and Mr. Dai.

    January 29, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  17. Fred

    O'Keefe's comments are as about as reliable as the weather..what he and Fox News did not disclose is that when he pulled his scam at ACORN that was played for hours on their network, was that it was not the first ACORN office that he had tried to pull the same stunt. The reason they did not disclose this was because they were thrown out of the other offices...he was a dishonest "want-to-be-reporter" that Fox tried to promote as a "investigative journalist" then and now he may well be a conviced fellon...Mom and Dad must be very proud

    Mr. William Flanagan, lawyer and Attourny General...great job of fathering...

    January 29, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  18. Anthony

    Doesnt matter what color or background these criminals have, they need to be TRIED just like I would, for the CRIMES they have BLATANTLY committed.
    That simple folks. If they were middle-eastern, Fox and Hannity would be calling for these guys heads, and would not allow them any rights as citizens.
    These are Federal laws these guys broke, wire-tapping, espionage, conspiracy, etc...


    January 29, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  19. Steve in Ct

    This dummy should have known that eventually he'd get banged with something for messing with Barry's Buddies @ Acorn. You mess with the bull and you get the horns. And if anyone should know about bull it's Obama.

    January 29, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  20. chill

    People who lie like these guys did have no integrity and apparently don't know the meaning of the word.

    January 29, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  21. Ben in Oil City PA.

    These guys crossed the line and should be prosecuted, period.
    If they really wanted to test the claims of not being able to get though, they should have called a whole lot of times and count how many times the calls didn't get picked up.
    I call federal congressmen and Senator's office's all the time and are often sent to voice mail do to call volume

    January 29, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  22. not alone

    Just like Palin, make a statment on a web site and it's truth.Give me a break lol

    January 29, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |

    About 20 years in leavenworth should show him the error of his ways. he is the one that pimped acorn. also one of these guys is a judge appointed by bush. why is it that the right wing people can not play fair? they allways have to have an edge by either hook or crook. what happened to good old fair elections. if these people want a majority to rule as they see fit let them buy a foriegn country and run it and leave america alone.

    January 29, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  24. Stacey

    I hope O'Keefe and his cronies get 10 years in prison. If the democrats pulled a stunt like this there'd be hell to pay.

    January 29, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  25. Ken in Gainesville

    How many other Democratic politicians have been targeted, not to mention liberal organizations? Follow the money. Prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. These people are trying to subvert any agenda that does not include their extremist views. They do not believe in democracy, and will stop at nothing.

    January 29, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
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