WASHINGTON — A jury in a federal civil case found Thursday that Project Veritas, a conservative group known for its deceptive tactics, had violated wiretapping laws and fraudulently portrayed itself as part of a long-running sting operation against Democratic political consultants.
The jury awarded the consulting firm, Democracy Partners, $120,000. The decision was a sharp rebuke of the practices that Project Veritas and its founder, James O’Keefe, have claimed. During the trial, lawyers for Project Veritas portrayed the operation as news gathering and its employees as fact-finding journalists.
“Hopefully, today’s decision will help deter Mr. O’Keefe and others from conducting this type of political spying operation and publishing selectively edited, misleading videos in the future,” Robert Creamer, a co-founder of Democracy Partners, said in a statement. after the jury had reached a verdict.
Project Veritas said it would appeal the ruling.
In 2016, according to testimony and documents introduced at trial, Project Veritas carried out a plan to infiltrate Democracy Partners, which worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign through the Democratic National Committee.
As part of the list, a Project Veritas employee posing as a wealthy donor named Charles Roth mentioned to Mr. Creamer that he wanted to make a $20,000 donation to a progressive group that was also a client of Mr. Creamer.
Later, the man posing as Mr. Roth told Mr. Creamer that his niece was interested in continuing her work in Democratic circles. After the money was transferred from an offshore account in Belize to the group, Mr. Creamer with the woman who played Mr. Roth’s niece and offered her an unpaid internship at Democracy Partners.
The niece used a fake name and email account along with a fake resume. In his book, “American Pravda,” Mr. O’Keefe wrote that “the donation certainly greased the wheels.”
The agent, whose real name is Allison Maass, secretly recorded conversations and took documents while working at Democracy Partners. She then provided the information to her superiors at Project Veritas, who edited the videos and published them.
The videos suggested that Mr. Creamer and another man, Scott Foval, were developing a plan to provoke violence from supporters of Donald J. Trump at his rallies. Mr. Creamer’s lawsuit said “the video was heavily edited and contained comments by O’Keefe that drew false conclusions.” According to documents filed with the court in the case, the man who plays Mr. Roth had proposed an “illegal voter registration scheme and Creamer rejected it outright as illegal.”
The lawsuit claimed that Mr. Creamer had lost contracts worth more than $500,000 due to the frauds behind the Project Veritas operation.
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Joseph E. Sandler, a lawyer for Democracy Partners, said during opening arguments last week that Mr. O’Keefe was a “strong supporter” of Mr. Trump and had tried to tip the scales in his favor during the 2016 election. , said Mr. Sandler, was “all done for the primary purpose of embarrassing Hillary Clinton and electing Donald Trump.”
He described the extensive operation as a “careful web of lies conjured up by Project Veritas.”
According to a Project Veritas email and a test exhibit, Mr. O’Keefe offered cash bonuses to his employees to obtain incriminating statements and $2,500 bonuses if Mr. Trump mentioned their videos in the presidential debates later that October. The email is marked “highly confidential”.
At the trial, Mr. Sandler that Project Veritas was trying to “uncover what they themselves made up.”
Paul A. Calli, a lawyer for Project Veritas, argued that the videos were newsworthy and pointed out that media outlets had published stories about the undercover operation. He said the lawsuit was just “sour grapes.”
In his closing statement, Calli said Project Veritas had engaged in “fraud, deception and dishonesty.” The group used these tactics, he said, so Project Veritas “can speak truth to power.”
He said there was no evidence this was a political espionage operation and that the trial was an attack on journalism.
“The sole purpose of the operation was journalism,” said Mr. Calli.
Before the trial, a federal judge ruled that Democracy Partners could refer to Project Veritas’ conduct as a “political espionage operation.”
Project Veritas is facing legal battles on several fronts. In August, some of its former employees sued the group, depicts a “highly sexualized” work culture where daytime drinking and drug use were common and common worked extra hours without pay.
That same month, two Florida residents pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to stealing a diary belonging to the president’s daughter, Ashley Biden, and selling it to Project Veritas. According to court documents, prosecutors alleged that a Project Veritas employee asked the defendants to steal additional items to authenticate the diary and paid them additional money after receiving them.
No charges have been brought against Project Veritas or any of its operatives in the Ashley Biden case, and the group has never published the diary. But in a sign that the investigation into the group will continue, authorities said one of the Florida residents had agreed to cooperate. As part of the investigation, FBI agents last year conducted court-authorized searches of three homes of Project Veritas employees, including Mr. O’Keefe.
Project Veritas was also ordered in August to pay Stanford University about $150,000 in legal fees after a federal judge threw out the defamation suit the group filed in 2021.
Project Veritas also has an ongoing libel suit against The New York Times.