By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Two undercover videographers released another videotape Wednesday of their interaction with an ACORN worker, contending that it reveals help they received from the community group's Philadelphia office when they posed as a pimp and a prostitute seeking a home.
Unlike previous videotapes, the heavily edited footage includes audio of the two conservatives but none of the ACORN Housing Corp. worker's responses to their questions.
But James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles said the tape rebuts statements by an ACORN official that a worker from its housing affiliate, Katherine Conway-Russell, had quickly kicked them out. "ACORN has lied every step of the way," said Andrew Breitbart, whose conservative Web site, Big Government, has featured the pair's videos from other cities.
Federal funding for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has been frozen in the weeks since videos were released showing its workers in several cities giving tax and housing advice to the pair, who had asked about setting up brothels with young girls from El Salvador.
ACORN and its affiliates also face several federal investigations, accusations of voter registration fraud and an indictment on charges of violating election law in Nevada, all of which stem from previous unrelated incidents. The Louisiana attorney general is investigating an embezzlement a decade ago that was allegedly covered up by the group's founder.
But the videos and the political outrage they generated have left the organization in crisis. After the release of one taken at the Washington office of ACORN Housing, the organization fired two employees. The future of the local housing office is uncertain.
"This is a targeted assault to disenfranchise our members because . . . the right-wing agenda is to stop us from empowering people of low and moderate incomes," said Junette Marcano, a board member of Philadelphia ACORN. "When you make the poor powerful, the powerful feel threatened."
Alyson Chadwick, an ACORN Housing spokeswoman, questioned O'Keefe's statement that the camera battery died near the end of the video, because the audio continued. She said the police had been called after they left because the pair seemed suspicious.
The video was edited to include statements made by Conway-Russell and others in the mid-September clip, which ACORN Housing posted to its Web site and YouTube and which the pair attempt to rebut. For example, they say that they spent 32 minutes in the office, in contrast to officials' statements that they were quickly shown the door.
In her account, Conway-Russell said she became concerned after O'Keefe and Giles began asking unusual questions. She said they weren't flashily dressed.
"I was wearing white pants and a satin tie," O'Keefe says dryly on the video released Wednesday. Giles was wearing large, green plastic hoop earrings, heels, a sarong "and a bizarre-looking leather shirt," he said.
The couple can be heard saying that they don't want trouble with authorities and that they would put a lot of beds in one room. The video also attacks coverage of ACORN Housing's earlier claims about the encounter in several newspapers, including The Washington Post.
O'Keefe and Giles declined to take questions after playing the video at the National Press Club Wednesday. O'Keefe said that he had edited out Conway-Russell's responses because of a lawsuit filed by ACORN over the first videos.
Breitbart said: "We ask that ACORN and the lady consent to play the audio, to dispel the discrepancy."
Ian Phillips, legislative director for Pennsylvania ACORN, said the video contains numerous manipulations, but "it's not on us to say, 'Release the audio.' "