A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.
The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.
But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias.
James O’Keefe, the Project Veritas founder who was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for using a fake identity to enter a federal building during a previous sting, declined to answer questions about the woman outside the organization’s offices on Monday morning shortly after the woman walked inside.
“I am not doing an interview right now, so I’m not going to say a word,” O’Keefe said.
In a follow-up interview, O’Keefe declined to answer repeated questions about whether the woman was employed at Project Veritas. He also did not respond when asked if he was working with Moore, former White House adviser and Moore supporter Stephen K. Bannon, or Republican strategists.
The group’s efforts illustrate the lengths to which activists have gone to try to discredit media outlets for reporting on allegations from multiple women that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. Moore has denied that he did anything improper.
A spokesman for Moore’s campaign did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The woman who approached Post reporters, Jaime T. Phillips, did not respond to calls to her cellphone later Monday. Her car remained in the Project Veritas parking lot for more than an hour.
The Post positioned video reporters outside the group’s office in Mamaroneck, N.Y, after determining that Phillips lives in Stamford, Conn., and realizing that the two locations were just 16 miles apart. Two reporters followed her from her home as she drove to the office.
After Phillips was observed entering the Project Veritas office, The Post made the unusual decision to report her previous off-the-record comments.
“We always honor ‘off-the-record’ agreements when they’re entered into in good faith,” said Martin Baron, The Post’s executive editor. “But this so-called off-the-record conversation was the essence of a scheme to deceive and embarrass us. The intent by Project Veritas clearly was to publicize the conversation if we fell for the trap. Because of our customary journalistic rigor, we weren’t fooled, and we can’t honor an ‘off-the-record’ agreement that was solicited in maliciously bad faith.”
Phillips's arrival at the Project Veritas office capped a weeks-long effort that began only hours after The Post published an article on Nov. 9 that included allegations that Moore once initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old named Leigh Corfman.
Post reporter Beth Reinhard, who co-wrote the article about Corfman, received a cryptic email early the next morning.
“Roy Moore in Alabama . . . I might know something but I need to keep myself safe. How do we do this?” the apparent tipster wrote under an account with the name “Lindsay James.”
The email’s subject line was “Roy Moore in AL.” The sender’s email address included “rolltide,” the rallying cry of the University of Alabama’s sports teams, which are nicknamed the Crimson Tide.
Reinhard sent an email asking if the person was willing to talk off the record.
“Not sure if I trust the phone,” came the reply. “Can we just stick to email?”
“I need to be confident that you can protect me before I will tell all,” the person wrote in a subsequent email. “I have stuff I’ve been hiding for a long time but maybe it should stay that way.”
The tipster’s email came amid counterattacks by Moore supporters aimed at The Post and its reporters.
That same day, Gateway Pundit, a conservative site, spread a false story from a Twitter account, @umpire43, that said, “A family friend in Alabama just told my wife that a WAPO reporter named Beth offer her 1000$ to accuse Roy Moore.” The Twitter account, which has a history of spreading misinformation, has since been deleted.
The Post, like many other news organizations, has a strict policy against paying people for information and did not do so in its coverage of Moore.
On Nov. 14, a pastor in Alabama said he received a voice mail from a man falsely claiming to be a Post reporter and seeking women "willing to make damaging remarks" about Moore for money. No one associated with The Post made any such call.
In the days that followed the purported tipster’s initial emails, Reinhard communicated with the woman through an encrypted text messaging service and spoke by phone with the person to set up a meeting. When the woman suggested a meeting in New York, Reinhard told her she would have to know more about her story and her background. The woman offered that her real name was Jaime Phillips.
Phillips said she lived in New York but would be in the Washington area during Thanksgiving week and suggested meeting Tuesday at a shopping mall in Tysons Corner, Va. “I’m planning to do some shopping there so I’ll find a good place to meet before you get there,” Phillips wrote in a message sent via Signal, the encrypted messaging service.
When Reinhard suggested bringing another reporter, Phillips wrote, “I’m not really comfortable with anyone else being there this time.”
Reinhard arrived to find Phillips, wearing a brown leather jacket and with long red hair, already seated in a booth in the restaurant.
The 41-year-old said she had been abused as a child, Reinhard said. Her family had moved often. She said she moved in with an aunt in the Talladega area of Alabama and started attending a church youth group when she met Moore in 1992, the year he became a county judge. She said she was 15. She said they started a "secret" sexual relationship.
“I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t care,” she said.
She said that she got pregnant, that Moore talked her into an abortion and that he drove her to Mississippi to get it.
In the interview, she told Reinhard that she was so upset she couldn’t finish her salad.
Phillips said she had started thinking about coming forward after the allegations about Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced. Then she said she saw the news about Moore flashing across the television screen while in a break room at her job at a company called NFM Lending in Westchester County, N.Y., Reinhard said.
Phillips also repeatedly asked the reporter to guarantee her that Moore would lose the election if she came forward. Reinhard told her in a subsequent text message that she could not predict what the impact would be. Reinhard said she also explained to Phillips that her claims would have to be fact-checked. Additionally, Reinhard asked her for documents that would corroborate or support her story.
Later that day, Phillips told Reinhard that she felt “anxiety & negative energy after our meeting,” text messages show. “You just didn’t convince me that I should come forward,” she wrote.
Reinhard replied, “I’m so sorry but I want to be straight with you about the fact-checking process and the fact that we can’t guarantee what will happen as a result of another story.”
Phillips was not satisfied. On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, she suggested meeting with another Post reporter, Stephanie McCrummen, who co-wrote the initial article about Corfman. "I'd rather go to another paper than talk to you again," Phillips told Reinhard.
Back at the newsroom, Reinhard became concerned about elements of Phillips’s story. Phillips had said she lived in Alabama only for a summer while a teenager, but the cellphone number Phillips provided had an Alabama area code. Reinhard called NFM Lending, the company Phillips said she worked for in Westchester County, but was told no one named Jaime Phillips worked there.
The company issued a statement after the publication of this article saying Phillips worked briefly for Maryland-based NFM Lending, but her tenure ended in the summer of 2016. The company also said it has no offices in Westchester County.
Alice Crites, a Post researcher who was looking into Phillips’s background, found a document that strongly reinforced the reporters’ suspicions: a Web page for a fundraising campaign by someone with the same name. It was on the website GoFundMe.com under the name Jaime Phillips.
“I’m moving to New York!” the May 29 appeal said. “I’ve accepted a job to work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt of the liberal MSM. I’ll be using my skills as a researcher and fact-checker to help our movement. I was laid off from my mortgage job a few months ago and came across the opportunity to change my career path.”
In a March posting on its Facebook page, Project Veritas said it was seeking 12 new “undercover reporters,” though the organization’s operatives use methods that are eschewed by mainstream journalists, such as misrepresenting themselves.
A posting for the “journalist” job on the Project Veritas website that month warned that the job “is not a role for the faint of heart.”
The job’s listed goal: “To adopt an alias persona, gain access to an identified person of interest and persuade that person to reveal information.”
It also listed tasks that the job applicant should be able to master, including: “Learning a script,” “Preparing a background story to support your role,” “Gaining an appointment or access to the target of the investigation,” and “Operating concealed recording equipment.”
Project Veritas, founded in 2010, is a tax-exempt charity that says its mission is to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud and other misconduct.” It raised $4.8 million and employed 38 people in 2016, according to its public tax filing. It also had 92 volunteers.
O’Keefe’s criminal record has caused the charity problems in some states. Mississippi and Utah stripped the group of a license to raise money in those states because it failed to disclose O’Keefe’s conviction on state applications, records show.
Also working at Veritas is former television producer Robert J. Halderman, who was sentenced to six months in jail in 2010 after he was accused of trying to blackmail late-night host David Letterman. Halderman was with O’Keefe outside the Project Veritas offices Monday as a reporter tried to ask about Phillips’s role with the organization.
Because Jaime Phillips is a relatively common name, it wasn’t a certainty that the GoFundMe page that Crites found was created by the same woman who approached The Post. But there was another telling detail, in addition to the name. One of two donations listed on the page was from a person whose name matched her daughter’s, according to public records.
McCrummen agreed to meet Phillips that afternoon.
Phillips suggested meeting somewhere in Alexandria, Va., saying she was shopping in the area. Post video reporters accompanied McCrummen, who brought a printout of the fundraising page to the interview.
Again, Phillips had arrived early and was waiting for McCrummen, her purse resting on the table. When McCrummen put her purse near Phillips’s purse to block a possible camera, Phillips moved hers.
The Post video reporters sat separately, unnoticed, at an adjacent table.
Phillips said she didn’t want to get into the details of what she had said happened between her and Moore.
She said she wanted McCrummen to assure her that the article would result in Moore’s defeat, according to a recording. McCrummen instead asked her about her story regarding Moore.
Phillips complained that President Trump had endorsed Moore.
“So my whole thing is, like, I want him to be completely taken out of the race,” she said. “And I really expected that was going to happen, and now it’s not. So, I don’t know what you think about that.”
McCrummen asked Phillips to verify her identity with a photo identification. Phillips provided a Georgia driver’s license.
McCrummen then asked her about the GoFundMe page.
“We have a process of doing background, checking backgrounds and this kind of thing, so I wanted to ask you about one thing,” McCrummen said, pulling out a copy of the page and reading from it. “So I just wanted to ask you if you could explain this, and I also wanted to let you know, Jaime, that this is being recorded and video recorded.”
“Okay,” Phillips said. “Um, yeah, I was looking to take a job last summer in New York, but it fell through,” Phillips said. “Yeah, it was going to be with the Daily Caller, but it ended up falling through, so I wasn’t able to do it.”
When asked who at the Daily Caller interviewed her, Phillips said, “Kathy,” pausing before adding the last name, “Johnson.”
Paul Conner, executive editor of the Daily Caller, said Monday that no one with the name Kathy Johnson works for the publication and that he has no record of having personally interviewed Phillips. Conner later said in an email that he had asked other top editors at the Daily Caller and the affiliated Daily Caller News Foundation about Phillips.
“None of us has interviewed a woman by the name Jaime Phillips,” Conner wrote.
At the Alexandria restaurant on Wednesday, Phillips also told The Post that she had not been in contact with the Moore campaign. As the interview ended, Phillips told McCrummen she was not recording the conversation.
“I think I probably just want to cancel and not go through with it at this point,” Phillips said at Souvlaki Bar shortly before ending the interview.
"I'm not going to answer any more questions," she said. "I think I'm just going to go."
She picked up her coat and bag, returned her drink to the front counter and left the restaurant.
By 7 p.m. the message on the GoFundMe page was gone, replaced by a new one.
“Campaign is complete and no longer active,” it read.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the NFM Lending office a Post reporter called to verify Jaime Phillips's employment was in Westchester County. The company has no offices in that county. This story has been updated with a statement from Maryland-based NFM Lending indicating that Phillips's brief employment with the company ended in the summer of 2016.
Thomas LeGro and Dalton Bennett contributed to this report.