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Turley: Phone tamperer’s Tweet may violate court order

By Ron Brynaert
Thursday, January 28, 2010 1:02 EDT
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‘Govt official concedes no attempt to wiretap,’ O’Keefe Tweet gloats

If there is a gag order against accused phone tamperer James O’Keefe then the once-celebrated conservative activist/journalist/prankster/defendant just might have broken it Wednesday night.

“Govt official concedes no attempt to wiretap,” O’Keefe Tweeted a half-hour before midnight.

Wednesday afternoon, NBC News reported that the judge had instructed O’Keefe not to talk about the case.

Contacted by RAW STORY, Professor Jonathan Turley, a nationally recognized legal expert, concurred, “It could indeed violate an order. It is extremely unwise for clients to be tweeting on their case even without such an order. Mr. O’Keefe has a record of reckless conduct and this would certainly add to that record.”

“Having said that, these orders often create a conflict for counsel in zealous representation and protecting a fair trial,” Turley added. “Mr. O’Keefe is being widely accused of an attempted wiretap. He has an interest in rebutting such claims. Yet, it is always problematic for a client to directly manage the media. While a tweet is not likely to result in serious punishment in this case, it can bring a sharp rebuke and undermine the relationship with the court.”

At his blog, Turley adds, “O’Keefe seems to relish reckless acts. His stunt with ACORN appears to have violated state laws. Even without a surveillance conspiracy, the Landrieu stunt is still quite serious. What is interesting is that O’Keefe hardly needs to directly communicate such information given the press attention in the case.”

O’Keefe’s Tweet was referring to an article published on an MSNBC blog by NBC’s Pete Williams entitled “Why tamper with Landrieu’s phones?”

“A law enforcement official says the four men arrested for attempting to tamper with the phones in the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) were not trying to intercept or wiretap the calls,” Williams writes. “Instead, the official says, the men, led by conservative videomaker James O’Keefe, wanted to see how her local office staff would respond if the phones were inoperative.”

Andrew Breitbart, who pays O’Keefe for his “life rights” believes that this signals the death to “Tampergate” or “Louisianagate” or “Watergate Jr.”

For those in the mainstream media committed to report the false and libelous narrative of “Watergate Jr.,” “wiretapping” and “bugging,” I predict much egg on your J-school grad faces. In your rush to judgment to convict James O’Keefe and his companions, you vengeful political partisans of press forgot to ponder: “Was Mr. O’Keefe up to one of his patented and obvious clown nose-on hidden camera tricks, trying to make his subjects look foolish?” Blog commenters seem to be quicker on the uptake than six-figured Washington-based pundits these days. And I predict there will be tape to vindicate these four pranksters, too.

One unnamed official in an MSNBC blog was enough to convince conservative blogger Patterico aka Patrick Frey that “law enforcement and James O’Keefe’s supporters agree: he did not intend to wiretap Mary Landrieu.”

So there was no intent to wiretap. Let’s dispel that idea now. Nobody is claiming he was trying to bug Landrieu. Everyone who compared this to Watergate was wrong, wrong, wrong — and should be embarrassed. Period.

The only question now is what he and 3 other men did intend to do.

The Government position is that O’Keefe & Company wanted to shut down Landrieu’s phone system

Patterico links to a theory posted at The Jawa Report which the MSNBC report seems to support:

I am postulating that the group was trying to document (with video camera) that Landrieu’s office had either disconnected or re-routed the phones to deflect incoming calls – hence, why they couldn’t get through. There have been anecdotal reports that Landrieu’s office has received complaints that it has been inaccessible by phone, particularly around the time when she was bought off by the Democrats for the now-infamous Louisiana Purchase.

Earlier Wednesday, during a cable news interview, O’Keefe’s father said that although he didn’t know anything about the plot he thought it might have something to do with the “Louisiana land purchase.” The elder James O’Keefe apparently was referring to “Lousiana purchase,” a nickname conservatives have applied to “the buyoff” Louisiana senators allegedly received to sign on to the health care reform bill.

Wednesday night, NBC News’ David Shuster told Rachel Maddow that “there`s every indication, Rachel, that they did not have any particular equipment on them to actually do any sort of phone tap. In other words, what they were carrying in their blue denim and their fluorescent vests, the two guys to try to pretend that they were phone technicians. They actually didn`t have any technical equipment.”

“And, secondly, what was described as a listening device by Stan Dai who was in the truck outside, we believe was simply some sort of cell phone or a walkie-talkie so that he could communicate with the people who are upstairs on the 10th floor,” Shuster added.

In an article in Thursday’s Washington Post entitled “ACORN foe tweeted about planned sting of Sen. Landrieu’s office” Carol D. Leonnig reports, “Supporters say O’Keefe and his friends entered Landrieu’s office to conduct another undercover sting: to show on video that citizens trying to call Landrieu’s office could not get through. Now O’Keefe — a celebrated figure among some Republicans for his undercover sting last fall targeting the nonprofit Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) — and three other men face charges of entering federal property on false pretenses as part of a plot to tamper with the lawmaker’s phone. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.”

Prescient liberals at Daily Kos, TPMMuckraker and Democratic Underground had predicted that conservatives would attempt to downplay the story by jumping on the media for assuming “maliciously interfering” and reports that a suspect nabbed outside had a listening device in his possession could only mean bugging.

In his email to RAW STORY, legal expert Jonathan Turley noted that he hadn’t jumped the gun like others had: “The government is charging him with trespass with intent to commit a felony. Many of us have been speculating on what that felony was. I stated on the day of the arrest that I thought it was odd that the felony was not identified and that, if surveillance was the intent, no surveillance devices were referenced in the affidavit of the agent.”

Even if “Tampergate” turns out to only be about shutting down a US Senator’s phones instead of tapping them, O’Keefe and his alleged accomplices are still facing serious charges, and legal analyst Jonathan Turley speculated on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann Tuesday night that more could be tagged on at a later date.

Turley blogs,

They have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony. However, that is likely only the first charge. There are a host of additional charges, particularly if the prosecutor support the widespread speculation of an alleged conspiracy to wiretap the office of a federal official. It is not clear if the authorities confirmed an effort to wiretap or found such equipment — as opposed to another prank-like video. Moreover, I would expect other possible arrests. Usually there are other individuals with knowledge of such a boneheaded plan. As for Flannagan’s father, he is in Shreveport and thus not necessarily involved in any official capacity. Obviously, he will be insulated from any role in any investigation under standard procedures for conflicts.

….

Depending on who they spoke to in the course of this day, they could also conceivably face charges under 18 U.S.C. 1001, in giving false information to federal officers.

At Poligazette, Michael Merritt writes that the theory may “perhaps, turn it more into the category of a ‘prank’ rather than an attempt to listen in on a Senator’s private conversations, though I suppose in these more secure times they could have winded up with a tele-terrorism charge on their record.”

Louisiana’s WDSU reports, “sources are telling NBC News that the whole thing was a prank and not a conspiracy to tap Landrieu’s phones.

“Post 9/11, there are no pranks,” said WDSU Crime and Safety Specialist Howard Robertson. “Every time someone pulls a prank, it affects every one of us.”

….

Sources tell NBC News that the men posing as telephone repairman had cameras on their work helmets so that they could capture their work cutting Landrieu’s phone lines. Those same sources said O’Keefe then, using a cell phone camera, hoped to record Landrieu staffers making embarrassing remarks about the phones not working.

Robertson added, “We’re talking about national security when this country is at war. You don’t do that, and I hope the judge tells them that by giving them jail time.”

On Wednesday, RAW STORY reported that “two of the three men arrested on Tuesday along with ‘ACORN pimp’ James O’Keefe for ‘maliciously tampering’ with Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) phones in her New Orleans office have ties to the United States intelligence community.”

“All four of the men arrested in the plot Monday have well-documented conservative ties, The Associated Press revealed,” RAW STORY’s DC correspondent Sahil Kapur reported. “Three of the suspects wrote for conservative publications while in college, and Flanagan has written for the national Pelican Institute.”

 
 
 
 
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