By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010; A04
On New Year's Eve, conservative activist James O'Keefe telegraphed across the Internet that he was up to something big.
On the social networking site Twitter, he said that his past undercover video stings had exposed wrongdoing at Democratic-leaning organizations -- and he foreshadowed one more in the offing.
"2008: Planned Parenthood VPs fired 2009: ACORN defunded 2010: Get ready cuz this is about to get heavy," he wrote on his public Twitter page, dubbed "JamesOKeefeIII."
Conservative supporters say O'Keefe's newest operation occurred just days ago. Federal prosecutors allege that he helped carry out a plot Monday in which two partners impersonated telephone repairmen to enter the downtown New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). O'Keefe, 25, waited inside the office and used his cellphone to record his two colleagues saying that the senator's phone was not receiving calls, according to charges unsealed Tuesday.
Supporters say O'Keefe and his friends entered Landrieu's office to conduct another undercover sting: to show on video that citizens trying to call Landrieu's office could not get through. Now O'Keefe -- a celebrated figure among some Republicans for his undercover sting last fall targeting the nonprofit Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) -- and three other men face charges of entering federal property on false pretenses as part of a plot to tamper with the lawmaker's phone. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Michael Madigan, O'Keefe's attorney, could not be reached to comment.
Opponents of health-care reform legislation had complained this month that they repeatedly heard busy signals when they called Landrieu's office to register their views.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans declined to comment on the allegation or potential motives. A law enforcement source said investigators are still sorting through evidence and conducting interviews.
O'Keefe considers himself a journalist with creative approaches to exposing wrongdoing. He told conservative talk show host Glenn Beck that he was not afraid to go to prison if necessary to do his work. In late December, he again tweeted about the power of undercover citizen-journalists.
"Hidden audio/video is the new gun: 1st grade teacher fired after being caught on book bag tape http://bit.ly/7Yipse."
The news of O'Keefe's arrest and the allegations against him rippled through Democratic and Republican circles Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Salt Lake City Republican Party announced Wednesday that it canceled O'Keefe's appearance as keynote speaker at a Feb. 4 fundraiser. "The allegations and arrest today certainly change our plans," Chairman Thomas Wright said. "He doesn't necessarily represent the Republican Party."
Andrew Breitbart, host of the conservative BigGovernment.com Web site, which helped publicize O'Keefe's ACORN videos, said he had no involvement in the Landrieu office event. But he said mainstream journalists are trying to unfairly convict O'Keefe.
"And basic logic suggests that there's much more to this story, since there is so little information," he wrote on his site.
O'Keefe and fellow activist Hannah Giles gained prominence after secretly videotaping several of ACORN's regional offices. Posing as a pimp and a prostitute, the two created videos showing ACORN staff members appearing to offer them help with concealing their purported prostitution business.
The videos led Congress in September to recommend banning all federal funding for ACORN, which accused O'Keefe of doctoring some of the videos to make the organization look worse.
Michelle Malkin, a conservative pundit and syndicated columnist, wrote late Tuesday that exposing wrongdoing is not an excuse to break the law and that O'Keefe's alleged actions should be taken seriously.
"Let it be a lesson to aspiring young conservatives interested in investigative journalism: Know your limits. Know the law," she wrote. "Don't get carried away. And don't become what you are targeting."
Rick Moran, a Blog Talk Radio host, called O'Keefe "a glory hound."
Garrison Jordan, attorney for one of the faux repairmen, Robert Flanagan, said his client did not think he was doing anything illegal.
"It was obviously a big mistake on his part," Jordan said. "He just got caught up in a stupid stunt."
According to a source familiar with the case, Flanagan met O'Keefe last week when O'Keefe arrived to speak at the Pelican Institute, a libertarian think tank where Flanagan wrote a blog. In recent weeks, Flanagan had criticized Landrieu's position on health-care reform. His father is acting U.S. attorney in Shreveport, La.
The top of O'Keefe's Twitter page offers his forecast of how this case will end:
"I am a journalist. The truth shall set me free."
Staff writer Garance Franke-Ruta and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.