Project Veritas lawyer: FBI, DOJ harassing journalists critical of Biden, undermining free press

"Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents are hiding facts, ignoring law, and basically making stuff up," said attorney for conservative muckraker James O'Keefe.

Published: May 10, 2022 10:15pm

Updated: May 11, 2022 10:56pm

The federal government is weaponizing the law to target a media organization that's critical of the Biden administration, according to the lawyer for a journalist who's been the subject of a sweeping Justice Department investigation.

"The FBI is using the legal system to harass a media company and its journalists who are critical of the current administration and to collect 'evidence' of a non-crime in order to amass a secret file on American journalists," said attorney Paul Calli, who represents investigative journalist and Project Veritas Founder James O'Keefe. "J. Edgar Hoover would be proud."

Calli's comments came in response to a new motion, filed by U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York, defending the government's conduct in its extensive probe into Project Veritas and three of its investigative journalists, including O'Keefe.

The filing was a court-mandated response to a motion filed by Calli in late March petitioning for his client's property to be returned. The government has seized nearly 200,000 Project Veritas emails and other files and raided the homes of O'Keefe and two other Project Veritas journalists, seizing their electronic devices in the process.

"The government's retention of the electronic devices and data at issue is reasonable because they were obtained pursuant to valid legal process, and the government's grand jury investigation remains ongoing," the new motion states, arguing Calli's petition should be denied.

Federal prosecutors argue that the materials were obtained through search warrants, which "were issued after magistrate judges determined that there was probable cause to believe that each of the electronic devices and email accounts contained evidence of, fruits of, or were instrumentalities of a federal crime." They added that "the return of the property sought would impair the government's investigation."

Calli told Just the News that judges rely on the government to present honest, truthful facts when requesting a warrant and that if the government lies or misleads about the facts — which he argued was the case here — then judges will unknowingly go along with the lies and say there's probable cause.

"These Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents are hiding facts, ignoring law, and basically making stuff up," he said, adding that government has been trying to keep as many warrants sealed as possible to avoid revealing they used misleading or false information to secure the warrants.

The Justice Department didn't respond to a request for comment for this story.

Calli's motion revealed how in March, Project Veritas was notified by Microsoft, its electronic communications service provider, that for over a year the government had been secretly seizing and reviewing the media organization's emails and other electronic information through sweeping search warrants under nondisclosure orders.

Microsoft was able to notify Project Veritas of this surveillance only because the Big Tech firm's attorneys resisted government efforts to renew nondisclosure orders and told federal prosecutors that Microsoft would pursue litigation to disclose these matters.

The government tried to keep the electronic surveillance orders hidden even after its investigation became public knowledge and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York appointed a special master to supervise federal prosecutors' access to Project Veritas' materials.

Through the Microsoft search warrants, which were unsealed in March, the government seized nearly 200,000 Project Veritas emails and other files, many of which were unrelated to the Justice Department's purported reason for initiating the warrants.

That purported reason dates back to September 2020, when sources contacted Project Veritas saying they found a diary belonging to then-presidential candidate Joe Biden's 40-year-old daughter, Ashley Biden, that had been left behind along with other belongings when she moved out of a Delray Beach, Fla. house subsequently occupied by one of the sources.

Over the next month, Project Veritas worked to authenticate the diary, reaching out to Ashley Biden and the Biden campaign, but ultimately decided against publishing its contents. However, an unaffiliated news site, National File, separately published the full diary in late October 2020, days before Project Veritas arranged for the diary to be delivered to the Delray Beach police department.

About a year later, in October, the FBI seized the electronic devices of Project Veritas' sources and tried to interview them.

The following month, federal prosecutors obtained and executed warrants to raid the homes of the three Project Veritas journalists, including O'Keefe, and seize their electronic devices.

The trove of emails obtained by the government through the Microsoft warrants dates back to January 2020, some eight months before sources offered the diary to Project Veritas.

"The FBI has proven that it is now little more than a domestic intelligence gathering service bent on undermining the First Amendment and a free press," said Calli. "James O'Keefe and Project Veritas will continue to expose the DOJ's mendacious attack on the First Amendment and a free press."

Journalists are legally protected by the First Amendment for receiving materials from sources — even if the sources stole the materials before handing them over to the media.

However, the Justice Department has contended there's probable cause to believe Project Veritas was "actively involved" in stealing the diary and transporting it — a claim denied by the sources, who have consistently said it was abandoned at the Florida house, and O'Keefe's legal team.

"The electronic devices and email account data at issue were obtained by the government as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the theft and interstate transportation of certain property stolen from an individual," federal prosecutors wrote in their latest motion, arguing that the seized materials "contained evidence of federal crimes, including conspiracy to transport stolen property across state lines and interstate transportation of stolen property."

The government didn't provide any evidence in its filing to show why it thinks the diary was stolen.

Federal prosecutors also didn't address concerns that their investigation violates the First Amendment, especially freedom of the press, despite the warnings of civil liberties advocates.

"The freedom of the press protects anyone engaged in the dissemination of information to the general public," Brian Hauss, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union, told Just the News last week. "Whatever anyone might think about Project Veritas, they are engaged in press activities. The precedent set by the government's investigation here will affect press freedoms enjoyed by all manner of press institutions."

Hauss and others have also expressed concerns that the Justice Department is overreaching with the sheer volume of materials it has seized from Project Veritas — a claim dismissed by federal prosecutors in their motion.

Calli said the government's filing "reeks of desperation," noting that Attorney General Merrick Garland recently said Justice Department prosecutors "follow the law and the facts."

"Nothing could be farther from the truth," said Calli.

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