Project Veritas founder and CEO, James O’Keefe, testified today before Members of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees regarding government overreach and spying on journalists.
The intent of the hearing was to defend Freedom of the Press and Journalists’ First Amendment Rights.
James O’Keefe’s Opening Statement: Congressman Biggs and members in attendance, thank you for allowing me the opportunity this afternoon to tell my story. I especially want to thank all members of the House Judiciary Committee for the recent unanimous bipartisan support of new legislation, protecting journalists from government overreach. These are important first steps, but we face a government that in May of 2021 promised that the seizure of journalist data is simply wrong and quote, “will not happen” while simultaneously actively seizing journalists’ data…My home was raided by armed FBI agents in the pre-Dawn hours of November 6, 2021…There’s a sign when you walk into our [Project Veritas office] building, it says, “This Organization is Protected by Patriots,” referring to the millions of Americans who support our work and afford us the ability to defend the right of journalists to report on stories critical of even the most powerful people and politicians in the world…What steps you take now as Members of Congress to protect freedom of the press are essential. By the time they [FBI] come to your door with a battering ram, it’s already too late.”
WATCH: Question and answer session.
Congressman Matt Gaetz: What Mr. O’Keefe’s circumstance designates is they [federal government] are willing to rip the Band-Aid off and use the government against journalism directly…Mr. O’Keefe, I learn something more every time I hear you speak about this. I had no idea that the [Justice] Department had tried to do an end run around a Special Master process. Would you mind taking a few moments to explain how?
James O’Keefe: Yes. Congressman, the Article Three Judge in New York, Southern District Judge Torres ordered a Special Master in my case in a two-page directive citing, and I quote, “First Amendment Journalistic Privilege.” After that, they [Justice Department] went around the judge to various magistrate judges in the Southern District to obtain secret warrants against Microsoft, to continue to gag Microsoft Corporation, which houses our emails. They tried to gag Microsoft after the federal judge, the judiciary appointed a Special Master citing the First Amendment. So, why would we trust the FBI and the Department of Justice to define who is, and who is not a journalist? Credit to Microsoft because Microsoft opposed the gag. And when they drafted that opposition, the Department of Justice backed down, and we went public with that in March.”
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Congressman Michael Cloud: Mr. O’Keefe, in your case, you mentioned that you feel like you’ve been — you’re guilty until proven innocent in your case, and that you’re having to defend your journalistic practices. One thing that’s very troubling to me throughout this whole situation is the fact that all this is taxpayer funded. So, we have the intelligence agencies going after individuals. We have intelligence agencies going after political opponents. It’s all taxpayer funded to go after tax paying citizens. But there’s a phrase that’s been coined that I’d like you to speak to if you can. I first heard from Matt Gaetz over here, but it says the process is the punishment in the sense of, you could end up going through this whole process, proving your innocence, but the process ends up being the punishment. Could you speak to that? What you’re having to do to defend yourself?
James O’Keefe: Well, the whole idea of journalism is to get sources to trust you. And what do you think sources think when they put this journalist in handcuffs and take all their reporter notebooks? The chilling effect is self-evident. Maybe that’s what they’re trying to do either way. The legislative branch has to make sure that doesn’t happen. And the problem with probable execution of a search warrant, the ACLU lawyers were in my office, which was itself an extraordinary test fact to the principles involved here. And what they informed me is this has never happened before in American history. And I want to make sure that it never happens again to anybody. You don’t show up to a journalist’s home with a battering ram. As soon as they walk into your apartment with the battering ram and guns pointed at you, there’s no remedy. The constitutional violation is already too great. You’ve already passed the Rubicon. So, this can’t ever happen again…So now it’s upon you with your enumerated powers to do something about it so that they don’t do this to Josh Gerstein at Politico, or NBC News, or CBS News. They did it to me. I hope they never do it to anybody ever again.”
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1. I’m calling on all of you [members of the legislative branch] to create a Bartnicki hearing — a requirement that before subpoenas, warrants, or orders seeking journalists’ information, the government must first give notice and a hearing to the journalist with the burden of proof resting squarely on the government to clearly and convincingly — the clear and convincing standard above the probable cause standard — prove the journalist, in fact, played a part in committing the crime, rather than requiring the journalist to prove with a negative of innocence. Innocent until proven guilty. That concept is incompatible with probable cause against a journalist.
2. Codify the right to challenge any subpoena, warrant or order seeking data from a third party where that data includes the journalists’ information. No more secret seizures of journalists’ information, period.
3. Fix the Privacy Protection Act and the 2703(d) process to provide for clear and meaningful damages to reporters who, like Project Veritas, have to spend millions in legal fees and legal bills to defend themselves from such egregious violations of the First Amendment. What steps you take now as Members of Congress to protect freedom of the press are essential. By the time they come to your door with a battering ram, it’s already too late. The violations of the Constitution are already too egregious. The battering ram was already at my door, but your work will save the unknown reporter, so that this never happens again on American soil.
The Project Veritas Team appreciates the concerns expressed by the Members of Congress present in today’s hearing.
Our hope is that REAL justice is served, and those who seek to undermine a journalist’s constitutional rights be held accountable.
EDITORS NOTE: This Project Veritas report is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.