Justice Department officials said Wednesday that they are examining claims in a surreptitiously recorded video that a junior agency employee may have used government resources to help further her political protest activities.
Allison Hrabar, a paralegal in the Justice Department’s antitrust division, was recorded during her participation in Democratic Socialists of America activities, in which she discussed her efforts to find the home addresses of a target of one of the group’s protests.
The recordings were made by Project Veritas, an activist group led by James O’Keefe that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets. The group released a video Wednesday that included clips of Hrabar talking about her activities for DSA. The video also featured a former Department of Health and Human Services worker saying that she sometimes received advance word of policy decisions being made by the Trump administration.
In June, Hrabar participated in a protest against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she ate at a D.C. restaurant. Months earlier, Hrabar was part of a protest at the home of a lobbyist for a private prison company.
In one of the videos, Hrabar described how the protesters found the lobbyist’s home.
“So we ran the license plate,” she said. “His car is parked outside a house that he does own.”
When someone asked how the group can look up license plates, she replied, “We cannot do it officially,” but the video doesn’t show the rest of her answer. At another point, she said the group uses public information and research.
In a different clip, a fellow activist said on a secretly recorded tape that Hrabar used an expensive but publicly available database, in a way that suggests she might have used a government account to access the database.
Another snippet in the video shows her saying: “What’s kind of lucky is at the DOJ, we can’t really get fired.”
Federal employees can be fired, though the process is often difficult and drawn out.
If Hrabar used government access to research databases to inform her protest activities, that would be a violation of federal law prohibiting federal employees from using government resources to engage in political advocacy.
O’Keefe said on his group’s website that the video clips are “proof of government employees leaking confidential information and using government resources to advance their resistance of official government policies they disagree with. These videos are the Deep State incarnate, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
In a statement, the Justice Department called the allegations “deeply concerning” and said that “department policy prohibits misuse of government resources to advance personal interests. We are looking into this immediately and have referred this matter to the Inspector General as well.”
Hrabar denied that she ever used work resources to further her political activism. The D.C.-area DSA group said in a statement that "James O'Keefe and the wildly unethical Project Veritas have been discredited and dismissed by investigative journalists, congressional committees, and several courts. This campaign, which wrongly targets both these dedicated public servants' privacy and their freedom to exercise their 1st amendment right, is just the latest in a long line of failed political attacks from a group desperate to remain relevant."
In response, O’Keefe said Veritas “is and always has been an ardent defender of the First Amendment. This video is solely about federal employees abusing their power for political means, and has already prompted response from both the Department of Justice and the Department of State.”
Last year, a woman who appeared to secretly work for Veritas approached The Washington Post falsely claiming that a politician had impregnated her as a teenager.