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CNN says undercover journalist O'Keefe taping morning conference calls 'may be a felony'

"We've referred it to law enforcement," the cable TV network said.

Updated: December 3, 2020 - 1:35am

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CNN says undercover conservative journalist James O'Keefe, who gained access to the liberal-leaning network's daily morning conference calls and posted the audio files, may have committed a felony.

On Tuesday morning, O'Keefe, head of Project Veritas, posted on Twitter that he would soon release recordings from editorial calls between CNN President Jeff Zucker, members of his senior leadership and top journalists at the network.

"Legal experts say this may be a felony," CNN's public communications department said in response. "We've referred it to law enforcement.

O'Keefe, who conducts stings and gains access through informants, has faced legal problems before. 

In 2010, O'Keefe and three others were arrested and charged with a felony for entering a federal building in New Orleans under false pretenses as they targeted the office of then-Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). That charge was eventually reduced to a single misdemeanor, but O'Keefe was sentenced to three years probation and required to perform 100 hours of community service.

O'Keefe released two tapes on Tuesday evening. Among the interesting excerpts:

  • Zucker: "You know, this is what we've come to expect for the last three and a half years, four years, but it clearly is exacerbated by the time that we're in and the issues that [Trump is] dealing with. I think that we cannot just let it be normalized. He is all over the place and acting erratically, and I think we need to lean into that."
  • Zucker: "Frankly, if we've made any mistake, it's been that our banners have been too polite, and we need to go well after Lindsey Graham."
  • Zucker: "There's a ton going on. Let's stay strong. Let's stay newsy. Let's stay urgent. Let's be smart. There is a lot of news out there, and Lindsey Graham really deserves it."
  • David Vigilante, CNN general counsel: "Yeah, I was just going to say, if you're going to talk about the story, I think it's unavoidable that you have to talk about the naked racism of Tucker Carlson. Because that's really what drove this anti-diversity push, you know, Trump watches Tucker Carlson's show and then reacts. And just as sort of the white supremacy hour they have on Fox News every night, I think it's the — You can't disconnect the two."
  • Stephanie Becker, CNN field producer: "On the issue of why it's important to get the transition going right, the 9-11 report talks about one of the problems was that the trouble that was brewing that lost during the transition. So, if you want a good, concrete example of what happens when you don't have a good transition, well, look at the Twin Towers."

In a video posted on his social media accounts on Tuesday, O'Keefe — who said an insider gave him access to the calls — unmuted the 9 a.m. conference call and confronted Zucker. 

"Hey Jeff Zucker, are you there?" O'Keefe asked. "Hey, this is James O'Keefe. We've been listening to your CNN calls for basically two months, recording everything. Just wanted to ask you some questions if you have a minute. Do you still feel you're the most trusted name in news, because I have to say from what I've been hearing on these phone calls, I don't know about that. And we got a lot of recordings that indicate that you're not really that independent of a journalist."

Zucker, who seems surprised, says: "Um, thank you for, uh, thank you for, uh, for your comments. Um, so everybody, in light of that, I think what we'll do is we'll, we'll set up an, uh, uh, a new system and we'll, uh, be back, uh — we'll do the rest of the call a little bit later."