ACLU steps up to defend Project Veritas in the name of press freedom after FBI raids homes, seizes phones of reporters and founder

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued a statement on the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Project Veritas, calling for the appointment of a special master to ensure that the FBI only reviews information applicable to the case.

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The ACLU released a statement saying, “Project Veritas has engaged in disgraceful deceptions, and reasonable observers might not consider their activities to be journalism at all. Nevertheless, the precedent set in this case could have serious consequences for press freedom.”

It added,

“Unless the government had good reason to believe that Project Veritas employees were directly involved in the criminal theft of the diary, it should not have subjected them to invasive searches and seizures. We urge the court to appoint a special master to ensure that law enforcement officers review only those materials that were lawfully seized and that are directly relevant to a legitimate criminal investigation.”

There is debate as to whether or not O’Keefe’s phones were lawfully seized in the pre-dawn raid. Project Veritas did not steal Ashley Biden’s diary, had been assured it was abandoned rather than stolen by sources, and did not publish anything from the diary.

University of Minnesota law professor Jane Kirtley, a former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said of the raid, “This is just beyond belief. I’m not a big fan of Project Veritas, but this is just over the top. I hope they get a serious reprimand from the court because I think this is just wrong.”

Much of the debate centers around whether or not O’Keefe is a journalist and entitled to press protections. Some claim that Project Veritas’ methods of going undercover and infiltrating organizations, including other news outlets, are not journalism, despite the fact that undercover reporting and stings have been used by news outlets and citizen journalists since before the Civil War to shed light on corruption and illegal and inhumane practices.

When asked who qualifies as a journalist under Justice Department policy, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “It’s very difficult to make that kind of definition.”

U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres has since ordered the FBI to cease its extraction and review of the contents of O’Keefe’s phones.

Adding a layer to the story is Project Veritas’ ongoing defamation lawsuit against the New York Times. The Times has been highly critical of Project Veritas yet seems to be receiving privileged attorney-client documents from the FBI. Not only does the Times appear to have access to privileged information that the FBI may have had no right to seize, much less divulge to the media, but it appears to have been tipped off about the raid.

Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy wrote,

“The judge should order the [Southern District of New York’s] Biden-appointed U.S. attorney, Damian Williams, to provide the court, immediately, with affidavits detailing communications with the media from every prosecutor, FBI agent, and support staffer who is either involved in the investigation or has had access to the items seized from the current or former PV officials.”

He added, “Judge Torres should ask that Attorney General Merrick Garland immediately refer the matter to Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz for a thorough investigation of how the search-warrant information came to be transmitted to the Times.”

Legacy media outlets like the New York Times like to claim that O’Keefe is not a journalist, yet it is the Times facing a defamation lawsuit. In fact, the lawsuit has already been heard by a federal judge, who allowed that lawsuit to move forward after finding sufficient evidence that the Times may have been motivated by “actual malice” and acted with “reckless disregard” in its coverage of Project Veritas.

It is also the Times that is potentially receiving illegally leaked information from the FBI regarding a person and organization they are in a legal battle with and publishing it. It is also the Times that published President Donald Trump’s stolen tax returns, which is a crime.

Why Project Veritas had Ashley Biden’s diary is unknown, but what seems clear is that the FBI is targeting a political opponent and using the might of the Justice Department to not only silence and intimidate a journalist, but to execute a personal vendetta. The Chinese government did something very similar earlier this year in Hong Kong when it raided the offices of Apple Daily and forced it to shut down, something that greatly distressed most free press advocates. If the FBI had done this against the Washington Post or the Boston Globe, the mainstream media would have been having a fit, but in this case they’re not. Why? Because the target is Project Veritas, which exposes truths and corruptions they would prefer to be kept quiet.

Those applauding the jackbooted tactics of the government should remember that permitting this type of behavior in any form will allow for later abuses against all press outlets. Perhaps one day the New York Times itself will post something Big Government doesn’t like — but when the homes of its reporters and editors are raided and the contents leaked to others for nefarious purposes, who will be left to speak up for the Times?