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Like Video Trickster James O’Keefe, Will Bill Barr Deceive Us?

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

William Barr, please do the right thing and release the full Mueller Report.

After all, you don’t need to be Attorney General, as you yourself have said. You certainly don’t need your government paycheck, a pittance compared to your private sector pay.

And what will your grandchildren and their grandchildren think about you, a concern that motivated Senator Sam Ervin when he chaired the Watergate hearings four decades ago?

Oh, do I wish that would be a persuasive argument. But Barr’s past conduct shows it is not.

Honor and integrity are not part of Barr’s legal DNA. Neither is respect for our Constitution and the norms of decency, not to mention international law.

Barr is a lawyer whose actions reveal that he thinks might makes right so long as he agrees with the leader holding the might.

He sees his job as justifying anything in pursuit of what he imagines is some greater good.

And deceptive editing of official government documents, at least in the version made public, is a Barr skill, as an incident from 1989 reveals. Maybe that’s where Breitbart and its former video con man, James O’Keefe, got their first lessons in deception.

We already know that Barr wrote a misleading four-page letter summarizing the hundreds of pages in the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team. We know Barr held back the summaries on issues prepared by Mueller’s prosecutors. We know Barr dishonestly described Mueller Report because people from team Mueller told friends, knowing no doubt that the friends would alert journalists.

And we can expect that what we will see when the Mueller Report is released on April 18, will be not just heavily redacted, but redacted in ways that lead us away from facts and truths.

This kind of deception is nothing new for Barr, a right-wing warrior whose track record shows the ends justify the means – which they never do.

In 1989 he wrote a memo titled “Authority of the FBI to Override Customary or Other International Law in the Course of Extraterritorial Law Enforcement Activities.” At the time Barr was the deputy attorney general, though he would soon begin his first stint as attorney general.

Ron Ostrow, the Los Angeles Times’ veteran Justice Department reporter, explained the memo when he broke the story. He wrote that the memo said FBI agents have “authority to apprehend fugitives from U.S. law in foreign countries and return them to the United States without first obtaining the foreign state’s consent.”

Barr’s memo “reversed a ruling dating back to the Carter Administration that had denied the FBI such authority to take unilateral action overseas,” Ostrow wrote. “The Carter ruling even had warned that federal agents could face kidnapping charges abroad if they used such tactics.”

When reporter Ostrow asked Barr about the memo, Barr stonewalled. “I just don’t discuss the work of the office of legal counsel,” Barr said. ”

Ostrow smartly suggested the memo would be used to justify invading Panama and seizing dictator Manuel Noriega, who was both a valuable source of American intelligence and a drug lord associate. Events later showed Ostrow was right.

Under international law any nation must first obtain the permission of another country to seize a suspect, as we just saw in the arrest by British police of Julian Assange, now being held while awaiting a hearing on extraditing him to the United States. This rule of law is why the 12 Russian GRU officers indicted by a grand jury working with Mueller will not be tried (unless they foolishly set foot outside Russia and another government agrees to capture them for or with us).

At least superficially the George H. W. Bush administration claimed ignorance. As the Washington Post put it, “the White House and State Departments quickly distanced themselves from the legal opinion after it was revealed yesterday.

That made sense since then-President George H.W. Bush had run the CIA, among other positions, and was aware of international law. And so, of course, was State.

It also made sense because sending FBI agents without permission to foreign soil is an act of war, though it may not necessarily spark one given the dominance of American military forces.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel considered such FBI kidnappings in the late 1970s when the FBI sought approval to kidnap Robert L. Vesco, a fugitive financier then living in Central America.

Justice lawyers back then concluded that “U.S. agents have no law enforcement authority in another nation unless it is the product of that nation’s consent,” and that arrests by U.S. agents without foreign approval are “regarded as an impermissible invasion of the territorial integrity of another state.”

The Carter era officials warned that agents who make such overseas arrests may face extradition to the foreign country on kidnapping charges.

In 1985, during the Reagan era, a Senate hearing was told that “seizure by U.S. agents of terrorist suspects abroad might constitute a serious breach of the territorial sovereignty of a foreign state and could violate local kidnapping laws.”

That testimony came from Abraham D. Sofaer, the chief State Department lawyer under Reagan.

Sofaer also suggested senators consider the adoption of similar policies by other governments.

“How would we feel if some foreign nation . . . came over here and seized some terrorist suspect . . . because we refused . . . to extradite that individual?”

What no one knew back then, and would not until Bill Clinton assumed office, was that the summary of the memo Barr wrote was misleading. The full memo is here.

In the 1989 case, Barr issued what NYU law professor Ryan Goodman writes was a document “replete with quotations from court cases, legal citations, and the language of the OLC opinion itself. Despite its highly detailed analysis, this 13-page version omitted some of the most consequential and incendiary conclusions from the actual opinion. And there was evidently no justifiable reason for having withheld those parts from Congress or the public.”

So, unless leopards change their spots, don’t expect the redactions in the Mueller Report to just protect national security and grand jury secrets (which Barr says he will not ask the grand jury judge to allow being made public). Expect to be misled.

How should we feel if we get not only less than the full Mueller Report but a version that is edited like a James O’Keefe video?

Remember O’Keefe and his Project Veritas. That word is Latin for truth, but O’Keefe videos were anything but, deceptively edited to make it appear people said and did things that were in some cases the exact opposite of the truth and in all cases misleading.

If Barr fails in his duty and gives us a deceptively edited Mueller Report, as seems almost certain, maybe we should label him, just like we name sports stadia and law schools.

We could call William Barr “the James O’Keefe Attorney General.”

 

The 2016 Election Emboldened Dangerous ‘Citizen Journalist’ Vigilantes

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Unaccountable so-called “citizen journalism” is on the rise, with vigilantes peddling private citizens’ personal information and engaging in illegal recording and harassment in an effort to practice what they call undercover reporting. And these tactics are actively endorsed by President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric and behavior, and his allies in the media, fueled virulent conservative distrust of established media outlets — regardless of their individual successes and failures — leaving a patchwork of fragmented, and often disreputable, news sources to fill that void.

Anonymous internet vigilantes and so-called “citizen journalists” like discredited video artist James O’Keefe are capitalizing on this moment of distrust to push their dangerous “reporting” tactics. O’Keefe is getting help from his supporters, such as Trump allies and media conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Roger Stone, and the anonymous internet users O’Keefe and others have tried to incite as “agents of truth.” And these self-styled journalists have been directly validated — and even funded — by our next president.

Trump specifically cited distortions from O’Keefe’s latest round of heavily edited videos on the campaign trail, and his charitable foundation gave at least $20,000 to O’Keefe’s nonprofit, Project Veritas, in 2015. Trump also personally validated and encouraged “new media” to combat “the total dishonesty of the press” on Reddit. In July, Trump hosted an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) forum in July in the popular “r/The_Donald” pro-Trump subreddit, a community that combs through hacked personal emails, pushes hateful memes, and promotes conspiracy theories under the guise of “journalism.” Shortly before the election, Trump posted a brief missive to the subreddit declaring that “MAINSTREAM MEDIA is rigged!” and encouraging followers to “stop the RIGGED mainstream media” by watching a presidential debate on his website instead of on any news channel.

Throughout the election season, Trump and his allies tweeted unvetted nuggets of misinformation from anonymous social media users, sometimes originating from the Trump subreddit. In the final weeks before Election Day, the Trump campaign seized on context-less soundbites from discredited video artist O’Keefe to push conspiracy theories at rallies and on air, stoking fear and further distrust of the government among his supporters.

GOP presidential candidates like Carly Fiorina and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) also elevated the work of another wannabe journalist: Media Matters’ 2015 misinformer of the year, David Daleiden, who created a series of  deceptively edited “investigative journalism” videos smearing Planned Parenthood. In a September CNN debate, Fiorina infamously delivered an impassioned — and completely factually inaccurate — speech describing a “video” in which she claimed to have seen a “fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” No such video exists, but media praised Fiorina for her “fiery” remarks.

The danger lies in the stakes: Partisan activists who pose as “citizen journalists” have no stake in getting it right. They are not beholden to editors or to upholding any publication’s reputation for accuracy. With minimal name recognition and a clearly political agenda, though, these operatives do have an incentive to get media and public attention by any means.

These operators willfully misrepresent their findings with deceptive editing and refuse to release full footage. They follow trails of misinformation — without the benefit of a fact-checker to guide the way — to private citizens’ doorsteps and church vans transporting people to the polls. They produce extreme headlines that don’t reflect reality but do confirm polarized beliefs — enough for lawmakers and presidential candidates to cite them, at least. They delight in collecting “scalps” — people who have lost their jobs because of deceptively edited undercover footage — even as the truth later vindicates many of these individuals.

They also call to action anonymous internet users who have even less to lose and the time to pore through obscure data or tail random members of the public, looking to find and publicize the personal information of individuals they perceive as unethical. In December, this danger culminated in a man shooting a rifle at a D.C. pizzeria as he attempted to “self-investigate” a conspiracy-laden fake news story propped up by anonymous, self-styled citizen journalists who accused the restaurant of operating a child sex-trafficking ring. The early stages of this collective internet investigation, too, were encouraged by conspiracy-loving Trump allies like 9/11 truther Alex Jones, and Michael Flynn Jr., a former Trump transition team member whose father is Trump’s pick for national security adviser.

This work is irresponsible, dangerous, and sometimes illegal; it is not journalism.

Responsible, independent journalism is a hallmark of the American free press, and it’s a critical tool for holding leaders accountable for the decisions they make. It makes sense that some of the bright spots of 2016 stemmed from quality investigative reporting, but it also makes sense that a twisted view of the journalism field has elevated the worst in people this year.

In the wake of Trump’s victory, right-wing activists styling themselves as “citizen journalists” are growing bolder. Since Election Day, they’ve been fearmongering and fundraising among their new supporters, congratulating each other on their journalistic chops, and touting “serious journalism being done onFacebook (sic) and YouTube.”

O’Keefe’s post-election fundraising email included categorical threats of surveillance aimed at Attorney General Loretta Lynch, interim Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer, and President Barack Obama. “The tide has turned,” the email stated, “and we have them on the run.”

Additionally, O’Keefe uploaded a video to YouTube the day after the election titled “Main Stream (sic) Media Is Now Powerless,” in which he described receiving “thousands of tips about fraud” and encountering “hundreds of people who seek to become undercover journalists.” O’Keefe also thanked “truth-seekers and Internet sleuths” who “crowd-sourced the investigative journalism” on Reddit and promised viewers they would hear more from him soon.

When we do, let’s be prepared.

IMAGE: Alex Jones protesting in Dallas, TX. Sean P. Anderson/Flickr

The James O’Keefe-Donald Trump-Breitbart News Nexus

Weeks before Election Day, convicted criminal James O’Keefe has come forward with a new set of heavily edited video tapes that he claims prove the conservative myth of widespread voter fraud. Republican nominee Donald Trump is already incorporating the charge into what appears to be his campaign’s closing argument — that he is the victim of a “rigged” election system, and the only way he can lose is if the election is stolen from him.

Halfway through October, it is clear that Trump is reading from campaign CEO and Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon’s playbook.

O’Keefe, the right-wing videographer behind the nonprofits Project Veritas and Project Veritas Action, is currently rolling out a series of videos based on footage captured by undercover operatives who wore hidden cameras while interviewing Democratic political operatives. The heavily edited videos focus on the Democrats discussing efforts to have activists disrupt Trump events and discussing a proposal — made by the O’Keefe operatives filming them — to engage in a voter fraud plot.

O’Keefe has a long history of engaging in criminal, misogynistic, ethically dubious, and bizarre behavior related to his video stunts. He has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering a government office under false pretenses; sought to set up a video “sting” in which he would lure a female CNN reporter onto a boat filled with sex toys and attempt to seduce the reporter on camera; and had to pay a former video target $100,000 and publicly apologize in a legal settlement.

O’Keefe’s videos often make a big splash, but they fall apart under scrutiny by reporters and state investigations. His past work attempting to document the ease of voter fraud is no different. In 2012, Project Veritas released videos that O’Keefe claimed proved “widespread voter fraud” in several states and the District of Columbia. But the videos did not show any instances of voter fraud — or voting at all. Instead, the videos showed actors almost committing a crime by attempting to obtain the ballots of other people under false pretenses, and they accidentally illustrated how difficult it would be to commit actual voter fraud. O’Keefe claimed that another video showed voter fraud in North Carolina, including “ballots being offered out in the name of the dead” and “non-citizens voting.” But the “dead” voter from the video was not actually dead, and the “non-citizen” in the video had become a U.S. citizen decades earlier.

Media outlets were able to point out O’Keefe’s deceptive edits because Project Veritas previously released unedited raw footage from its hidden camera stings. The group has not done so for its latest election projects. Instead, media outlets reporting on the videos are relying solely on the snippets of video and the context that O’Keefe provides.

That matters because O’Keefe’s two latest videos edit down footage from undercover operatives working over a period of several months into 34 minutes of narrated video purporting to show progressive operatives “rigging the election.” “The editing raises questions about what was said and what may come out later,” as The Washington Post’s David Weigel pointed out.

As Time magazine’s Philip Elliott noted following a review of the videos, “Without the full context” omitted by the O’Keefe videos, “it’s impossible to know” what one operative meant in a quote featured in one of the videos, and that “there’s no way of telling if that person said what the tape purports” in another case. He says that exculpatory information showing operatives refusing to engage in voter fraud appears to have been excised; he notes that while some such commentary remains, it comes “long after viewers are convinced they are watching Watergate unfold in real time.”

That’s the review from a reporter who is viewing the tapes skeptically. No such skepticism is in evidence at the launching pad for the videos: Breitbart News. The right-wing website, which has been among Trump’s biggest boosters, received the exclusive on the first the videos O’Keefe released this week and has produced several stories on the allegations.

Trump has been mired in a downward spiral for the past several days, repeatedly claiming that the election has been rigged against him by the media and voter fraud. His claims have been rejected across thespectrum, including by Republican election lawyers and officials who have described the allegations as “unfounded” and “irresponsible” and said they could have “a destabilizing effect on the orderly administration of the election.”

The Trump campaign — headed by Bannon, who is on a leave of absence from his job running Breitbart News — has clung to O’Keefe’s videos as evidence that its candidate is actually right about the election being rigged. Bannon himself was investigated by Florida prosecutors earlier this year following a report that he “was registered in a home in Miami that he rented for his ex-wife.”

Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway claimed during an interview on Fox News’ Hannity that the voter fraud video shows that “Donald Trump was ahead of his time. … He’s been talking about this for the last couple days. People have been criticizing him. He has no evidence. And here we see it goes right to the top.” Campaign surrogate Newt Gingrich said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should call on the FBI to open an investigation.

At a speech yesterday, Trump highlighted O’Keefe’s video on activists disrupting his rallies. It seems likely that he will use the “voter fraud” video to bolster his bogus claims of a rigged election at tonight’s final presidential debate.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

James O’Keefe Blames Shadowy Forces for Wikipedia Mistakes

Conservative propagandist James O’Keefe thinks that liberal billionaire George Soros edited his Wikipedia page to include a common misconception about his criminal record. In an interview with The Awl yesterday, O’Keefe claimed that the only reason people think he’s a criminal is “because they read Wikipedia,” which is “edited by George Soros, who edits out my innocence pertaining to the felony.”

O’Keefe, best known for deceptively edited videos targeting ACORN and NPR, was arrested last January after dressing as a telephone repairman and entering the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu. He was originally charged with tampering with Sen. Landrieu’s phones, a felony, but that was dropped after he agreed to plead guilty to entering her offices on false pretenses, a misdemeanor. [The Awl]