Oops. Pretending to be a pimp while secretly video taping in order to expose fraud (and other shenanigans) at ACORN: good job. Pretending to be a phone repairman in order to gain access to the telephone closet at a federal building to tap the phone of a US Senator (allegedly): not so good.
Alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O'Keefe, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group's credibility.
Also arrested were Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, the office confirmed. All four were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.
According to the FBI affidavit, Flanagan and Basel entered the federal building at 500 Poydras Street about 11 a.m. Monday, dressed as telephone company employees, wearing jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool belts, and hard hats. When they arrived at Landrieu's 10th floor office, O'Keefe was already in the office and had told a staffer he was waiting for someone to arrive.
When Flanagan and Basel entered the office, they told the staffer they were there to fix phone problems. At that time, the staffer, referred to only as Witness 1 in the affadavit, observed O'Keefe positioning his cell phone in his hand to videotape the operation. O'Keefe later admitted to agents that he recorded the event.
After being asked, the staffer gave Basel access to the main phone at the reception desk. The staffer told investigators that Basel manipulated the handset. He also tried to call the main office phone using his cell phone, and said the main line wasn't working. Flanagan did the same.
They then told the staffer they needed to perform repair work on the main phone system and asked where the telephone closet was located. The staffer showed the men to the main General Services Administration office on the 10th floor, and both went in. There, a GSA employee asked for the men's credentials, after which they stated they left them in their vehicle.
The U.S. Marshal's Service apprehended all four men shortly thereafter.
Landrieu spokesman Aaron Saunders said the senator could not comment. "Because the details of yesterday's incident are part of an ongoing investigation by federal authorities, our office cannot comment at this time."
O'Keefe on Thursday gave a speech to the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a libertarian group in New Orleans.
Last fall, O'Keefe was hailed as a conservative hero for dressing as a pimp and taping ACORN employees offering advice on how he and a partner could get away with running an international under-age prostitution scheme.
The New Orleans event was promoted with this glowing statement about O'Keefe by the Pelican Institute: "James has been a pioneer in the use of new media to drive these kinds of important stories. He will discuss the role of new media and show examples of effective investigative reporting."
The four men appeared in federal magistrate court this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Louis Moore wearing red inmate jumpstuits from St. Bernard Parish Prison, where they are being held. Moore is allowing the men to be released on $10,000 bond.
Robert Flanagan's attorney, J. Garrison Jordan, said he believes his client works for the Pelican Institute. Asked the motivation for the alleged wiretap plot, he said: "I think it was poor judgment. I don't think there was any intent or motive to commit a crime."
Too bad. It seemed like this kid had a bright future of investigative journalism of some type ahead of him. Assumed this story fleshes out to be true, I know what he was trying to accomplish, but this was the corner-cutting way to do it. he will not be successful in his aspirations by cutting corners. This could damage his ability to work with others down the road because they would be taking on reputational risk.