Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that James O'Keefe faced charges in an alleged plot to bug the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu. The charges were related to an alleged plot to tamper with a phone system. The headline incorrectly referred to a plot to bug the phone and a caption incorrectly referred to an alleged wiretap scheme. The story also incorrectly reported that Landrieu had proposed a replacement for William Flanagan. Landrieu had proposed a replacement for the U.S. attorney, but Flanagan did not hold the post at that time.
James O'Keefe charged in alleged phone tampering of Senator Mary Landrieu's office
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The conservative young filmmaker whose undercover sting damaged a liberal activist group last year faces federal criminal charges in an alleged plot to tamper with the phones in the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
James O'Keefe was among four men who created a ruse to enter the lawmaker's downtown office, saying they needed to repair her telephones, according to court records unsealed Tuesday. O'Keefe used his cellphone to take pictures of two men, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, who are accused in an FBI agent's sworn affidavit of impersonating telephone company workers. Stanley Dai is accused of aiding the Jan. 25 plot.
All four were taken to a suburban New Orleans jail and charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony. If convicted, each man faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Flanagan, 24, is the son of William J. Flanagan, the acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, based in Shreveport. William Flanagan declined to comment through an office assistant.
Landrieu said Tuesday, "I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward."
O'Keefe, 25, became a conservative hero last year after he and fellow activist Hannah Giles secretly videotaped several regional offices of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) while posting as a pimp and a prostitute. O'Keefe's videos showed ACORN staffers appearing to offer them housing help and advice on concealing their purported prostitution business.
The furor over the videos led Congress in September to recommend banning all federal funding for ACORN, and the group, facing major questions about its housing work for the federal government, was forced to launch an internal audit of its operations. The ban never took effect: In December, a federal court ruled that singling out ACORN for punishment was unconstitutional and ordered the federal government to honor its existing contracts with the group.
Given that history with O'Keefe, Democrats gleefully pored over the details of the criminal charges Tuesday, while Republicans either spoke about waiting for all the facts to come out or kept their thoughts to themselves.
Conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, who helped champion O'Keefe's undercover work on his Web site BigGovernment.com and advised him on how best to release the videos over time, said Tuesday that he didn't have enough details about the New Orleans charges to comment.
"We have no knowledge about or connection to any alleged acts and events involving James O'Keefe at Senator Mary Landrieu's office," Breitbart said. "We have no information other than what has been reported publicly by the press."
According to the FBI affidavit, Flanagan and Basel were dressed in blue denim pants, blue work shirts, light green fluorescent vests, tool belts and white construction-style hard hats when they entered the Hale Boggs Federal Building on busy Poydras Street. The pair told Landrieu's staff members that they were telephone repairmen and needed access to the office's main reception desk telephone.