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U.S. judge denies teachers union bid to stop release of Project Veritas video

Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, shown at a 2017 gathering, hailed a ruling Tuesday that allows his group to release information from an undercover operation. (Laura Buckman for The Washington Post)

A federal judge Tuesday rejected a request by the American Federation of Teachers to stop Project Veritas from releasing information it collected in an undercover operation targeting a Michigan union affiliate. The controversial conservative group said it would release videotapes Wednesday.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement she was disappointed with the ruling and that the union would continue to fight “unethical and unlawful smear campaigns against educators.” Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe said in a statement the ruling was “a victory for both journalism and for the First Amendment.”

Project Veritas, a tax-exempt charity, is famous for its undercover “sting” operations, which use false cover stories and covert video recordings against primarily mainstream news organizations and liberal groups. The group says it does this to expose “corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud and other misconduct.” It 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.

Last November, The Washington Post reported that a woman who appeared to be working with Project Veritas falsely claimed that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager. The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account.

A woman approached The Post with dramatic — and false — tale about Roy Moore. She appears to be part of undercover sting operation.

The AFT Michigan legal case began last year when the teachers union asked a court in Michigan to issue a restraining order against Project Veritas. The union alleged that Project Veritas sent an operative — who used an alias — to get a job at the American Federation of Teachers Michigan and to spy on its operations. Circuit Court Judge Brian R. Sullivan agreed last fall, preventing Project Veritas from publishing, releasing to the public or disclosing information it may have obtained regarding the union.

The restraining order approved by Sullivan last fall was lifted in December 2017 by U.S. District Judge Linda Parker. She said she was removing it and denying a request for a temporary injunction against Project Veritas because the American Federation of Teachers had not produced enough evidence that it could be harmed by revelations from the group.

The union went back to court Monday, filing an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order preventing Project Veritas from releasing material it obtained during its Michigan AFT operation. AFT Michigan attorney Mark Cousens said in a statement the union was seeking an injunction to prevent Michigan educators from being “falsely disparaged” by Project Veritas.

Parker denied the request, again citing the First Amendment.

Project Veritas released a statement from organization founder O’Keefe saying:

“This decision, following the suspension of two [New Jersey Education Association] presidents, is a victory for both journalism and for the First Amendment. Why exactly has Randi Weingarten and Michigan AFT worked so hard — using both legal threats and ad-hominem attacks — to silence journalists at the expense of parents and families who deserve to know what’s really going on in their school districts?”

Weingarten said in a statement:

“It’s ironic that on national Teacher Appreciation Day, while the AFT is in Puerto Rico as part of our Operation Agua work delivering water filters to ensure that thousands of children and families have safe, reliable drinking water, Project Veritas is promoting its work to try to smear teachers and their unions. We are disappointed in this ruling, but we’ll keep pursuing every possible legal avenue to protect Michigan students and teachers from Project Veritas’ unethical and unlawful smear campaigns against educators. While the group notorious for doctoring videos continues to promote footage of our teachers that it gained in direct violation of Michigan law, we’ll continue fighting for the safe, well-funded classrooms that Michigan’s kids deserve.”

Last week, Project Veritas released video from one of its undercover investigations that it says was recorded March 27, and showed David Perry, president of the Hamilton Township Education Association in New Jersey, saying he would “bend the truth” to help a teacher who allegedly assaulted a student. There was no assault; Perry was responding to a story made up by a Project Veritas operative.

Perry was suspended and an internal investigation in the school district was launched.

Project Veritas has repeatedly been sued, and O’Keefe was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for entering a federal building under false pretenses during a sting operation. Its public tax filings show that in 2016, Project Veritas raised $4.8 million. 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, according to this Post story.

(Correction: Earlier version said O’Keefe was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for entering a federal building with a fake ID card. He says he used his real name and ID and was convicted for entering on false pretenses.)