FBI Confirms Seizing Phones, Other Devices From Project Veritas Members as Part of Probe

Federal prosecutors confirmed in a court filing Friday that FBI agents seized phones and electronic devices from people connected to Project Veritas, as part of an investigation into how the group received a diary that supposedly belonged to President Joe Biden's daughter, Ashley, the Associated Press reported.

Project Veritas founder James O'Keef said previously that agents searched his home and two others in connection with a criminal probe into how they received Ashley Biden's alleged diary.

They asked a judge to appoint a monitor, called a special master, to review the seized material to be sure that prosecutors wouldn't see confidential files related to conversations between Project Veritas staff and their lawyers.

Federal prosecutors in New York urged a judge to reject the request in a court filing Friday. In the filing, they blacked out key details about the case but questioned whether Project Veritas qualified as an independent journalism organization, and said even if it were one, it didn't matter.

"There is no First Amendment protection for the theft and interstate transport of stolen property," prosecutors wrote.

O'Keefe released a video this month saying his group was contacted late last year by "tipsters" who claimed to have a copy of Ashley Biden's diary that had been "abandoned in a room."

O'Keefe said Project Veritas ultimately did not publish anything from the diary because it could not confirm it belonged to Ashley Biden.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

James O'Keefe, Project Veritas, Conservative
Federal agents searched the New York homes of people tied to Project Veritas after the group received a diary that allegedly belonged to Ashley Biden. Above, James O'Keefe of Project Veritas speaks at the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, Texas, on November 29, 2017. Jae S. Lee/The Dallas Morning News/AP Photo

In the video, O'Keefe said the diary had been turned over to a law enforcement agency. He said his group never "engaged in any illegal conduct." He said there was "no doubt Project Veritas acted appropriately at each and every step."

Some First Amendment groups had raised concerns about the FBI raids as a potential violation of laws restricting when law enforcement officials can seize materials from journalists. The Justice Department under Biden has said it won't use subpoenas to obtain records from news organizations in most circumstances, though there's an exception for when the journalists themselves are suspected of breaking the law.

In their filing, federal prosecutors wrote that "there is considerable doubt whether the practices of Project Veritas or its employees generally could be entitled to the protection of a qualified journalistic privilege."

"Project Veritas is not engaged in journalism within any traditional or accepted definition of that word. Its 'reporting' consists almost entirely of publicizing non-consensual, surreptitious recordings made through unlawful, unethical, and or/dishonest means."

Prosecutors didn't specify in the visible parts of the filing what was stolen, or from whom, or say whether investigators believed that Project Veritas staff was directly involved in thefts.

O'Keefe has defended the organization's methods as being part of a long tradition of journalists using hidden cameras or subterfuge to uncover wrongdoing.

The activist group, best known for conducting hidden camera stings that have embarrassed news outlets, labor organizations and Democratic politicians, has protested the raids as a violation of free speech rights and protections given to journalists.