The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Controversial Project Veritas hit with restraining order sought by teachers union

James O’Keefe, right, a conservative U.S. activist and head of the Project Veritas group, testifies as a witness in a trial in Warsaw on June 21. O’Keefe testified on behalf of his colleague and friend Matthew Tyrmand, an American activist with his group who is suing a Polish journalist and his publisher for defamation. (Vanessa Gera/AP)

A judge in Michigan just issued an emergency restraining order on a controversial group known as Project Veritas for allegedly attempting to infiltrate a teachers union in the state and illegally obtain information about it.

The organization, which is famous for its “sting” operations aimed primarily at mainstream news organizations and liberal groups,  was said in a civil complaint filed by the American Federation of Teachers Michigan to have planted an operative who used an alias to get a job at the union and spy on its operations.

The restraining order (see below) was signed by Circuit Court Judge Brian R. Sullivan and bars Project Veritas from publishing, releasing to the public or in any way disclosing any information any of its agents or employees may have gathered on the union. Representatives for the organization are ordered to appear in court this week to address the complaint.

Stephen Gordon, communications director for  Project Veritas, said: “Project Veritas doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations, real or imagined.”

The AFT Michigan lawsuit says that a woman named Marissa Jorge got an internship at the union in May 2017, using the pseudonym “Marissa Perez,” and saying she was a University of Michigan student who wanted to be a teacher. It says that she “showed an interest in charter schools and in instances of educators who had supposedly engaged in ‘sexting’ with students; there were no such instances.”

It also says that she sought information that was beyond her assignment, sought and was granted permission to see confidential databases, sent confidential information from those databases to herself or copied them, accessed the computers of several staff members, and secretly recorded conversations.

Project Veritas, which says its mission is to expose corruption, has been in the news in recent years for targeting organizations — including Planned Parenthood and CNN — with videos  later shown to have been significantly edited.

Project Veritas has been sued repeatedly in the past. In 2013, James O’Keefe, the project’s founder, agreed to pay $100,000 to a former employee of ACORN who was fired as a result of a Veritas operation but was later vindicated. Here’s how this Forbes article described it:

It seems that the master of the cleverly edited — if highly deceptive — video reel is now being required to pay the sum of $100,000 to Juan Carlos Vera, a one time California employee of ACORN. Mr. Vera had been portrayed by O’Keefe as being a willing participant when O’Keefe and his accomplice, Hanna Giles, proposed smuggling young women into the United States to work as prostitutes.
While Mr. Vera had no idea he was being surreptitiously video taped — which is not surprising given that California law expressly bars the secret recording of one’s voice or image — there was also something Mr. O’Keefe did not know until after he released the damaging video of his conversation with Vera for broadcast.
As soon as O’Keefe and his partner-in-crime left the ACORN location, Mr. Vera called the police to report the entire incident. It turns out that Vera had been playing along with O’Keefe in an effort to ensnare O’Keefe and Giles whom Vera believed were in the act of breaking the law by proposing to engage in the importing of young women to become prostitutes.

Project Veritas was hit with a $1 million conspiracy lawsuit this past summer by some key players in the political consulting firm called Democracy Partners after it was infiltrated by Veritas. This Washington Post story says:

The allegations: Project Veritas infiltrated a Democratic consulting firm under false pretenses, secretly recorded private conversations and published deceptively edited footage — all to mislead the public and hurt former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the White House. In doing so, Project Veritas violated federal and Washington wiretapping laws, among other things, said attorney Joseph Sandler, a former Democratic National Committee general counsel who represents the plaintiff, Democracy Partners, a consulting group working with the Clinton campaign.
Project Veritas’s founder, James O’Keefe, has denounced the lawsuit as an intimidation tactic to impede Project Veritas’s “army of guerrilla journalists” and their pursuit of the truth.

Here’s the AFT complaint against Project Veritas, and below is the judge’s restraining order:

Here’s the judge’s new restraining order (and below it is the civil suit):