A Bridge Too Far For ACORN-Hunter O’Keefe (UPDATED, 8:52 p.m.)

When James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles broke the news of their expose’ of ACORN offices across the country abetting criminal behavior last September, it was a great public service done on behalf of the American people to shine the light of truth on waste and fraud on the public dime. That O’Keefe was walking the line with his rather flamboyant and risky pimp-and-prostitute scenario was duly noted, however; it added a degree of Animal House-style entertainment to the scandal and made it too good to pass up for millions of Americans, but it wasn’t exactly above board.

But yesterday, it looks like O’Keefe might have tripped on his success. The 25-year old filmmaker was arrested yesterday in New Orleans along with three other twenty-somethings for apparently attempting to tap the phones in Mary Landrieu’s office.

According to the criminal complaint in the case, three men, including O’Keefe, entered Landrieu’s Poydras Street office on Monday, two of them – Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, dressed as telephone repairmen. Basel and Flanagan went to Landrieu’s office and represented that they were from the phone company. O’Keefe was already there, having told the staffers he was waiting for someone else to arrive. According to the complaint he pulled out his cell phone and positioned it to record Basel and Flanagan as they “manipulated” the main phone at Landrieu’s front office desk and purportedly tried to call the main phone from a cell phone. Having done this, the two men stated they would need to get into the main telephone closet. The receptionist directed them to the GSA office, located on the same floor of the Hale Boggs Building, where they repeated their request.

Things went south from there, as the GSA official asked them for phone company credentials, which they couldn’t produce and said their ID’s were “in the truck.” The gig was up from there, as law enforcement was notified and the plot was rolled up. Basel and Flanagan admitted they weren’t with the phone company and that they had entered the building on false pretenses, while O’Keefe and another man, Stan Dai, admitted to helping plan the caper.

Undoubtedly, O’Keefe was snooping for wrongdoing on the Senator’s part – and catching Landrieu in the midst of nefarious doings would be both unsurprising and a public service. But trying to wiretap a U.S. Senator is over the top under any circumstances and methods like that can’t be defended. The apparent juvenile nature of this plot doesn’t particularly reflect well on the New Media, either; in fact, it’s embarrassing in the extreme.

As a defendant in a federal criminal case, O’Keefe probably doesn’t have much to say, and that’s a pity. Because it would be very edifying for those of us who are in his debt for his ACORN work to know what the hell he was thinking.

UPDATE (5:28 p.m.): Fox News’ Eric Shawn reports that O’Keefe denies the operation in question was aimed at wiretapping Landrieu’s office, and has this quote from his lawyer, Michael Madigan:

“We don’t have any of the facts yet, but James O’Keefe, at heart, is a really good kid,” Madigan said in a statement to Fox News. “We are looking into this further and are awaiting hearing from James directly.”

Fair enough, and this situation certainly looks peculiar. Flanagan is the son of the actng U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana; it would be somewhat strange to think this group really is as dumb as they come off in the criminal complaint.

But if the goal wasn’t to wiretap Landrieu’s phones, what’s with the masquerade? Why ask to get into the phone closet? These guys had better have some good answers, and B.S. isn’t going to cut it.

UPDATE 2 (7:44 p.m.): It appears Stan Dai is a spook of some kind, as his official title is Assistant Director at the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence at Trinity University in Washington, DC – a program “designed to increase the pool of eligible applicants for positions in the intelligence community with an emphasis on women, persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities, with diverse cultural backgrounds, language proficiency, geographical expertise and related competencies.”

Make of this what you will. But if this is the kind of covert op they teach at the ICCAE, it doesn’t bode well for the future of our intelligence agencies…

UPDATE 3 (8:03 p.m.): New Media titan Andrew Breitbart, with whom O’Keefe worked on the original ACORN videos, did a spot on the Hugh Hewitt show tonight in order to state that he had nothing to do with O’Keefe’s current project and no connection to Basel, Flanagan or Dai. Breitbart said he hasn’t talked to O’Keefe in three weeks and categorically disputes the characterization of O’Keefe’s gang as “Breitbart’s crew” by left-wing advocacy group Media Matters – Hewitt alleges that amounts to slander.

Apparently, O’Keefe is quoted by AP as saying, “’Veritas,’ Latin for truth, as he left a suburban jail Tuesday with suspect Stan Dai and Joseph Basel, both 24. All declined to comment. ‘There will be a time for that,’ Dai said. As he got into a cab outside of jail, O’Keefe said ‘the truth shall set me free.'”

UPDATE 4 (8:51 p.m.): WWL has coverage of the incident…

One interesting tidbit on Flanagan: not only is he the son of a U.S. attorney, he’s also on staff at the Pelican Institute, a conservative think tank based in New Orleans we at The Hayride can vouch for as a top-quality organization not given to illegality. Flanagan has written a number of blog pieces for The Pelican Post, the institute’s blog – most recently a rather non-threatening reference to the Heritage Foundation’s rating of America as only “mostly free” in its 2010 Index of Economic Freedom.

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