The founder of Project Veritas, who was subpoenaed last week to testify before a grand jury, believes that the Attorney General’s office is investigating whether members of his organization broke the state’s wiretapping law.
James O’Keefe and other members of the provocative political activist organization met with officials from the Attorney General’s office on Tuesday to show them a video they recorded in which a 77-year-old Atkinson man admitted to accidentally voting in two states in the 2018 election. After leaving that meeting, O’Keefe said, two criminal investigators working for the agency handed him a subpoena ordering him to testify in “an investigation by the grand jury into the operations of Project Veritas.”
O’Keefe believes the investigation involves covert videos of staffers working for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign that Project Veritas operatives recorded in Manchester in 2016.
While the organization has secretly recorded videos during sting operations in other parts of the state, including in Atkinson and Nashua, the videos of the Sanders staffers were recorded in Manchester, which is in the Hillsborough County north court district.
O’Keefe’s subpoena orders him to appear before a grand jury in Hillsborough County Superior Court North.
“This is about using the law as a weapon to bludgeon me and that’s an injustice. I’d like to know why they are choosing to do that,” O’Keefe said. “If this is a two- or three-year-old issue why are they recreating it on the same day we catch a man admitting to a felony?”
A person familiar with the Attorney General’s work on the matter said that the agency had an open investigation into Project Veritas’ secret recordings at least as of 2017. The person asked to remain anonymous because he or she was not authorized to discuss the investigation.
New Hampshire is one of 11 states with two-party consent wire-tapping laws, which prohibit the electronic recording of conversations unless all parties involved agree to be recorded. There are some exceptions to the law for law enforcement purposes.
“The two-party consent law applies to the sound portion of videos,” said Albert “Buzz” Scherr, a UNH Law professor.
One Project Veritas video from 2016 shows Sanders’ local field director Hugo Palma admitting to using the address of the campaign’s Manchester office to register to vote when he in fact was living in Warner at the time. Other videos — all of which appear to have been taken without the subjects’ knowledge — show other staffers discussing ways to skirt New Hampshire voter residency laws.
Palma did not respond to a request for comment.
O’Keefe, who was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for using false pretenses to enter a federal building and record secretly inside a senator’s office, maintains that Project Veritas broke no laws when it recorded the Sanders staffers or took subsequent videos.
Shortly after the group released the edited videos in 2016, the Attorney General’s office subpoenaed Project Veritas for the raw footage.
O’Keefe turned over the videos and it is not clear whether that investigation ever concluded. Representatives from the Attorney General’s office declined to discuss the matter because it involves a grand jury investigation.
O’Keefe and Project Veritas are based in New York.
It is a complicated and lengthy legal process for prosecutors in one state to obtain a subpoena for information or testimony from a person living in another state, according to people familiar with the process.
Project Veritas has built its reputation on secretly recorded sting videos, but those methods have also landed the organization in trouble.
A teachers union in Michigan sued Project Veritas in 2017 after discovering that one of its operatives, posing as a college student, was hired by the union as an intern and secretly recorded sensitive conversations.
A federal judge handling the case rejected Project Veritas’ motion to dismiss on March 28 and wrote that the union had “sufficiently demonstrated a violation of the eavesdropping statute” in Michigan and that “defendant (Project Veritas) is found in violation of that statute.” The judge has not yet rendered a final decision in the case.
Project Veritas faces several other lawsuits alleging that its operatives broke state wire-tapping or eavesdropping laws, and its most recent video release could add to the trouble.
Last week, the group sent the Union Leader a video in which Robert Alan Bell, 77, of Atkinson, admitted to accidentally voting in both New Hampshire and Florida last year. Project Veritas has also shown the video to investigators with the Attorney General’s office.
Bell told a reporter that he had voted early in Florida while there for his best friend’s funeral but was so distracted that when election day rolled around in New Hampshire he cast another ballot, having forgotten about voting in Florida.
But Bell also said that when Project Veritas operatives showed up at his door to ask him about his voting record they did not tell him they were recording the conversation. The video has more than 21,000 views already on YouTube.
Bell said he has filed a complaint with Atkinson police.