Project Veritas Motion Shows Government’s Clandestine Campaign Against Journalists

  • by:
  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

On Tuesday, Project Veritas (PV) attorney Paul Calli penned a scathing motion to District Court Judge Annalisa Torres in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) that should terrify all freedom-loving Americans regardless of political persuasion. "Microsoft Corporation legal documents" obtained by Project Veritas show a "total disregard for the First Amendment and...utmost hostility towards the free press" by the United States government in the case of Project Veritas' investigation of Ashley Biden's diary.

According to a report on the Project Veritas website, "[t]he documents uncover a sixteen-month clandestine campaign against journalists in which the DOJ obtained 7 secret orders, warrants and subpoenas from six magistrates within the Southern District of New York...The documents reveal a peak (sic) into the SDNY's covert surveillance of American journalists, commenced by Assistant United States Attorney, Robert B. Sobelman." 

The lawyers for Project Veritas estimate that the government allegedly "gained unsupervised access to as many as 150,000 emails and 1,000 contacts" with its alleged unlawful seizure of materials. Additionally, PV lawyers found requests for content that not only violated attorney-client privilege but were, in many cases, obtained secretly, with the use of unnecessarily broad search filters, and also "requir[ed] production of email content from far outside the relevant time period of the news investigation into the Ashley Biden diary."

Founder of Project Veritas, James O'Keefe sent out an email to announce the letter, summarizing the government's alleged egregious malfeasance:

"Microsoft Corporation bravely turned over documents to us showing that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been spying on my journalists and I (sic) well before the FBI raided our homes this past November.

This is an extreme abridgment to the First Amendment.

The DOJ had used secret warrants to obtain our privileged and constitutionally protected communications and contacts from Microsoft corporation of various journalists here at Project Veritas.

The DOJ also went BEHIND a federal court judge's back to obtain an extension of the non-disclosure orders requiring Microsoft to conceal the fact that [the] government ALREADY had all these materials.

Despite multiple opportunities to do so, the DOJ did not publicly disclose the orders, warrants, or subpoenas."

The homes of O'Keefe and two other PV journalists were raided in November of 2021 during the early morning hours by FBI agents, enabling government seizure of "journalists' electronic devices filled with First Amendment-protected materials and attorney-client privileged information." On Dec. 8, 2021, Judge Torres granted the appointment of a Special Master for the case.

Because of the raid and its potential violations of "any First Amendment concerns, journalistic privileges, and attorney-client privileges... the Court granted the aggrieved journalists' Motions to Appoint a Special Master to review the contents of the seized electronic devices before providing any materials to a government filter team, and ultimately to make privilege determinations following the aggrieved journalists' objections. (Docket No. 48) at 3 (citations omitted) and 4."

However, Tuesday's letter allegedly reveals that the government was, prior to the appointment of the Special Master, concealing from both PV and the Court important activity related to the PV case. The government effectively circumvented any requested protection PV might have had.

"The government already had in place mechanisms for circumventing these protective processes and invading the First Amendment and attorney-client privileges of Project Veritas and its journalists, the existence of which the government concealed from counsel for Project Veritas and its journalists and, we believe, from this Court.

From November 2020 to April 2021, the government used compulsory demands, including secret warrants and 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) orders, to obtain voluminous materials from Microsoft, the email services provider used by Project Veritas, spanning the email accounts of eight journalists and Project Veritas's Human Resources Manager. This means that by the time the undersigned filed the Motion to Appoint a Special Master on November 10, 2021, the government had already seized Project Veritas's journalistic and attorney-client privileged materials, without regard to topic or the aforementioned privileges and far outside the relevant time period." 

Additionally, the government "muzzled Microsoft with a series of non-disclosure orders," attempting to continue the orders even after the appointment of the Special Master and after the diary case became publicly disclosed. Attorneys in the case stated that the "government made a mockery of these proceedings" with its actions.

Project Veritas Letter/Mar. 22/Ashley Biden's Diary Investigation

The letter also discusses the perplexing ability of the government to convince "multiple Magistrate Judges to extend non-disclosure orders for an investigation that was already public and widely reported upon," concluding that the government must have "omitted material facts from the Magistrates" in order to "successfully extend its secrecy orders." The government allegedly went around Judge Torres to obtain additional orders from Magistrates who were unaware of her orders.

Project Veritas/Magistrates/Secrecy Orders

"Project Veritas also alleges that the government required broad search filters that allowed for voluminous capture of content and communications. The government filtered for "all emails," allowing for "a significant volume of both attorney-client privileged emails (particularly from Mr. O'Keefe's account) and First Amendment privileged materials, including constitutionally protected donor identities and communications as well as privileged newsgathering materials wholly unrelated to the potential reporting about the Ashley Biden diary (which was only one news story among many that Project Veritas investigated at the time).

By seizing the contents of all emails, the government has also necessarily obtained hyperlinks to some internal Project Veritas cloud computing folders and various internal draft news reporting."

The government also allegedly searched "far outside of the relevant time period of the news investigation into the Ashley Biden diary" Project Veritas claims it heard of the diary and its connection to Joe Biden in early September 2020. The government also sought material after the relevant period.

"The government knew that this was the beginning of the relevant period, as evidenced by its 11/24/20 Order issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d), which compelled production of records dated on or after 9/1/20. Nonetheless, its next two search warrants required that Microsoft produce emails for a period beginning January 1, 2020—eight months before Project Veritas had ever heard of the Ashley Biden diary. The fact that the government secretly obtained emails from three different Project Veritas journalists dating from eight months prior to the newsgathering conduct that the government is scrutinizing shocks the conscience. This was eight full months of journalist communications that have no bearing whatsoever on the non-crime that the government is investigating herein, but the government has presumably put its prying eyes on them anyway."

Project Veritas believes the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York "has launched a retributive campaign that does violence to the First Amendment." The government, says PV, has not only violated the First Amendment rights of journalists, but it has "corrod[ed] freedom of the press" with its actions. These are "abuses of power [that] must not go unpunished."

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