Who approved the warrant for 10 FBI agents and a battering ram in search of information regarding a supposedly pilfered diary that the journalists themselves brought to the attention of law enforcement a year ago? Do you think the FBI would be conducting pre-dawn raids if your diary was stolen?
Before dawn on Saturday morning, a prominent conservative journalist was peacefully asleep with his wife in their Mamaroneck New York apartment when they were jolted awake by pounding on their door. The pounding was so loud it woke up more than one of his neighbors. “They asked for James,” Jimmy Maynes, who lives next door, is reported as saying. “I thought they were banging on my door. I opened the door.” “They told me to close the door and I closed the door,” he told The New York Times, one of the few media organizations to report on the story. “That’s exactly what happened. It was still dark,” he added. Brent Mickol lives across the hall. He heard the pounding and the people at the door say “something along the lines of ‘FBI Warrant. Open up.’” When the journalist in question, James O’Keefe, came to the door himself, sure enough, he was stunned by the sight of about 10 FBI agents complete with a battering ram, ready to break his door down if he didn’t answer promptly.
Mr. O’Keefe described the ordeal in an interview with Sean Hannity earlier this week. “I woke up to a pre-dawn raid. Banging on my door, I went to my door to answer the door and there were ten FBI agents with a battering ram, white blinding lights, they turned me around, handcuffed me and threw me against the hallway. I was partially clothed in front of my neighbors. They confiscated my phone. They raided my apartment. On my phone were many of my reporters’ notes. A lot of my sources unrelated to this story and a lot of confidential donor information to our news organization.” After handcuffing Mr. O’Keefe and gaining access to the apartment, the FBI spent two hours searching the premises, leaving Mr. O’Keefe himself in a “state of shock.” “I’ve heard ‘the process is the punishment.’ I didn’t really understand what that meant until this weekend. And Sean, I wouldn’t wish this on any journalist,” he explained.
Two days earlier, the FBI had raided the apartments of two of Mr. O’Keefe’s associates, one in midtown Manhattan and another in Westchester County. Mr. O’Keefe himself had released a video statement on Friday, the day before the raid on his apartment, announcing he was under investigation. “I awoke to the news that apartments and homes of Project Veritas journalists, or former journalists, had been raided by FBI agents. It appears the Southern District of New York now has journalists in their sights for the supposed ‘crime’ of doing their jobs lawfully and honestly. Or at least, this journalist,” he said. But what crime would warrant the FBI deploying these types of tactics against a journalist and the organization he founded, Project Veritas? Money laundering? Drug dealing? Bribery? Some other significant felony?
No, none of the above, not even close. Their crime, apparently, was that Project Veritas had briefly come into possession of what is believed to be the personal diary of President Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden, a year ago. According to Mr. O’Keefe, he was approached by a source prior to the 2020 election who claimed they had discovered the diary in a hotel room. Project Veritas negotiated with the source, had possession of it for a time, but ultimately decided they couldn’t verify its authenticity and didn’t publish any of the contents, though they are said to reflect incredibly poorly on President Biden himself. Mr. O’Keefe explained, “Like any reporter, we regularly deal with the receipt of source information and take steps to verify its authenticity, legality, and newsworthiness. Our efforts were the stuff of responsible, ethical journalism and we are in no doubt that Project Veritas acted properly at each and every step.” When they were unable to verify the diary’s authenticity, they tried to return it to Ashley Biden directly. Her lawyer “refused to authenticate it,” however, so they ultimately contacted law enforcement about the matter late last year.
Sometime in between, another conservative website did publish select pages from the diary on October 24, 2020. The website claimed they had received these pages from a whistleblower at another news organization, presumably Project Veritas itself, that refused to publish the contents. The whistleblower, who remains unknown, insisted there was audio of Ashley Biden herself admitting the diary was hers. As far as we can tell, no further action was taken until quite recently, when Project Veritas received a grand jury subpoena about the probe. The raids were conducted almost immediately thereafter. Mr. O’Keefe said in a statement, “We do not know how The New York Times was aware of the execution of a search warrant at our reporter’s home, or the subject matter of the search warrant, as a Grand Jury investigation is secret.”
The FBI has remained largely silent on the matter, saying only that they were performing “law enforcement activities” during the raids. Reporting from the Times and The Daily Beast indicates that Ashley Biden reported a burglary of her house sometime last October, and the Department of Justice opened a probe at that time. Mr. O’Keefe’s attorney, Paul Calli, pushed back on the idea that the diary was stolen, saying “nobody knows if that’s the case” because their source claims otherwise. Regardless, there seems to be no indication that the Department of Justice or the FBI had any reason to believe that Project Veritas itself conducted the burglary, especially when they had already turned the materials over to local law enforcement almost a year before the raid. The Department of Justice itself should surely be aware that the First Amendment protects journalists even if they come into possession of stolen material as part of their reporting. This has been established for decades.
In the early 1970s, The New York Times received documents stolen from the Pentagon and published them under the heading of the Pentagon Papers. They obtained the materials from Daniel Ellsberg and his friend Anthony Russo who had photocopied them from a government office in 1969. The government under Richard Nixon tried to convince the Times that Mr. Ellsberg and Mr. Russo were guilty of violating the Espionage Act of 1917, a felony, and therefore they had no authority to publish the contents. The Times was not dissuaded, however, and the government ultimately sued to prevent their publication. The Supreme Court weighed in on June 30, 1971, ruling 6-3 in favor of the New York Times. Justice Black wrote, “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” Mr. Ellsberg and Mr. Russo were ultimately indicted by a grand jury, but the charges were dismissed by Federal District Judge William Mathew Byrne after he ruled a mistrial because of numerous problems with the FBI’s case including illegal wiretaps, a break in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and an apparent attempt to bribe another judge by the Nixon Administration. District Judge Byrne wrote, “The totality of the circumstances of this case which I have only briefly sketched offend a sense of justice. The bizarre events have incurably infected the prosecution of this case.”
The Times itself, however, faced no criminal charges for being in possession of the stolen material, solidifying the right of journalists to publish information obtained from sources that might well have broken the law. Based on what we know now, it’s difficult to see how Project Veritas would not be protected by the same standard. Mr. O’Keefe himself believes they have been targeted by the Southern District and the Department of Justice in an obvious and heavy-handed attempt at intimidation. “This is an attack on the First Amendment by the Department of Justice,” he said. “I’m calling upon all journalists to take a stand against this. A source comes to us with information, I didn’t even decide to publish it. If they can do this to me, if they can do it to this journalist and raid my home and take my reporter notes, they’ll do it to any journalist. This is about something very fundamental in this country. I don’t know which direction this country is going in. But journalists everywhere have to rise up because we broke no laws here. If they can do it to me, they’ll do it to anybody.”
Unfortunately, the story itself, explosive as it surely is, has received very little coverage outside The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Fox News and its sister publication The New York Post. Journalists, in general, it seems are perfectly happy with the actions of the FBI and the Department of Justice when they target a conservative outlet. That alone would be shameful enough, but there are much deeper and more troubling questions in play. Once upon a time, pre-dawn raids by the FBI were the stuff of drug cartels and organized crime, used in extreme circumstances to target people that wouldn’t cooperate otherwise, more seen on TV and in the movies, than something that happened to white collar professionals plying their trade. Nor would we expect 10 FBI agents to respond to reports of a simple burglary that might or might not have occurred a year ago. Putting this another way, if someone robbed your house, what are the odds the FBI would respond in force a year later?
The answer is zero, of course. There’s no chance they would be involved in a petty, local crime, begging the question as to why they are involved right now. The burglary, if it even occurred, happened before Biden was President and didn’t target Biden himself. Nor does anyone know who in the FBI or Department of Justice hierarchy approved these gestapo-like tactics. The rank and file certainly can’t decide to target and raid journalist’s homes on their own accord. Someone up in the chain signed off on this, fully knowing that there were likely other avenues to obtain this information. Project Veritas had already contacted law enforcement about the diary. The FBI could have contacted their attorneys to obtain the information they wanted. A pre-dawn raid is supposed to be a last resort. Instead, it was their initial plan. Why? What other avenues were considered and why were they rejected?
Some, at least, are concerned. Attorney and Constitutional Scholar Jonathan Turley said, “Why would the FBI be coming in on this? Project Veritas said it didn’t run the information and notified local enforcement. So there is a legitimate concern when the FBI becomes involved in this type of story, as to whether it is going outside of those navigational beacons that we use to judge whether they are acting independently.” Mr. Turley went one step further, relating it to another strange incident involving President Biden’s children, when a gun belonging to Hunter Biden was apparently left in a public trash can and both the Secret Service and the FBI somehow became involved. “A lot of people asked at that time, why would the FBI be involved in that, if that’s true,” Turley noted, also adding that this recent raid “does raise questions about the promise made by the Biden administration that is going to be more careful when dealing with media figures.”
In my opinion, this leads to a deeper and much more troubling question. Federal and local law enforcement and federal and local prosecutors have long been known to use more aggressive tactics than might be necessary. The issuance of a warrant requires approval by the judiciary, in this case, at the federal level. The judge is the person in the process charged with ensuring people’s rights are respected, the proper procedures are followed, and the law enforcement agency has probable cause for the warrant. We’ve all seen movies where the aggressive prosecutor and detective are hot on the trail of some suspect based on little more than a hunch, but the judge refuses to issue the warrant because they don’t have remotely enough evidence for probable cause. Instead, he or she tells them to find something meaningful to justify their actions, perhaps with a lecture on the need to protect civil rights. In this case, who issued this warrant and why?
Ultimately, this suggests to me that many of our checks and balances are completely broken. Federal judges report directly to the supposedly conservative Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. He is the single person most responsible for safeguarding all of our fundamental rights, and Freedom of the Press is clearly delineated in the First Amendment itself. It’s abundantly clear that a judge has gone completely rogue on his watch, and yet no one is even mentioning that this makes John Roberts himself personally responsible. Nor is this the first time we’ve seen judges go rogue in this manner. The Inspector General issued a scathing report on the FISA warrants issued on Carter Page and others in the early days of the Trump administration. Someone approved a pre-dawn raid complete with weapons on Roger Stone. Someone also approved the raid on Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Guilaini.
Years later, we have no idea who or why. This is completely unacceptable. If the rights of journalists and lawyers aren’t being protected, neither are yours and we officially live in a police state. I don’t quite think we’ve fallen that far, that fast, but, sadly, it gets tougher to tell by the day, especially when the watchdog media is anything but, willing to sacrifice their own rights if the target is a conservative.