By Susan Shelley
”Attention all units: Arrest Captain Culpepper.”
Fans of classic comedy will recognize that line from the 1963 film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” It comes at the moment of reluctant realization that the top law enforcement official has used his inside access to beat the comedians to the loot, and then get away with it.
It appears that we have reached the “arrest Captain Culpepper” moment in U.S. law enforcement, but it’s not funny.
The Biden administration’s Department of Justice obtained search warrants in an investigation of something that doesn’t appear to involve any federal crime, and then earlier this month the FBI raided the homes of three people associated with Project Veritas, a guerrilla journalism organization that uses undercover reporters and hidden cameras to report its stories.
Almost immediately, the details of the raids and confidential legal communications stored on the cellphone of Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe were published in The New York Times.
It was too much even for the Biden-friendly American Civil Liberties Union. “Project Veritas has engaged in disgraceful deceptions, and reasonable observers might not consider their activities to be journalism at all,” an ACLU senior staff attorney said in a statement. “Nevertheless, the precedent set in this case could have serious consequences for press freedom.”
There’s no “could have” about it when the FBI shows up with a battering ram at the homes of reporters and a publisher to search for and seize devices, and then somehow confidential communications with an attorney are published verbatim in The New York Times.
On Capitol Hill, the ranking members of three committees — Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. — sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding documents and information about the Project Veritas raids, including how and why the FBI decided to open an investigation at all — an investigation into the alleged theft of a diary that allegedly belonged to the president’s daughter, Ashley Biden.
In a statement on the Project Veritas website, O’Keefe said the group was approached late last year by “tipsters claiming they had a copy of Ashley Biden’s diary” and were trying to sell it. O’Keefe said Project Veritas “could not determine if the diary was real, if the diary in fact belonged to Ashley Biden, or if the contents of the diary occurred,” and the decision was made not to publish it. He said Project Veritas turned the diary over to law enforcement. Later, excerpts of the diary were published on another website.
What is it the federal crime here?
According to O’Keefe’s attorney, one of the search warrants listed “transporting material across state lines.”
In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that media outlets can’t be held liable for publishing information that someone else obtained illegally, as long as the media outlets themselves did not obtain the material illegally. O’Keefe’s attorney, Paul Calli, told a federal judge that the sources told Project Veritas they obtained the diary after Ashley Biden abandoned it at a house in Delray Beach, Florida.
Given that Project Veritas employees have not been accused of stealing the diary, it begs the question: Are federal law enforcement officials asserting the power to raid the homes of journalists who receive or publish material illegally obtained and leaked by people in contact with government officials?
James O’Keefe says his seized cellphone contained confidential contact information for sources. Was the investigation into the “theft” of Ashley Biden’s diary just a pretext to find out who is speaking to Project Veritas?
In 2013, when Joe Biden was vice president, the Department of Justice secretly spied on Associated Press reporters, collecting telephone records for 20 different phone lines — including reporters’ home phones — for a two-month period in an apparent effort to find the identity of leakers. The revelation prompted AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt to send a letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that copies of the phone records be destroyed. “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” he wrote.
The government doesn’t have any rights. It has powers. You have rights. Those rights are defined in the Constitution and in law as prohibitions of certain government actions.
But who do you call when the government is violating the law?
It’s time to demand broad congressional hearings on abuses of power in the Department of Justice going back years and perhaps decades. We already know that the government spied on AP reporters, and that the DOJ lied to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign adviser. In September, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a report confirming “widespread noncompliance” with required “factual accuracy review procedures” for secret surveillance warrant applications.
That’s the context in which the latest outrages — including the recent DOJ memo characterizing parents at school board meetings as a potential domestic terror threat — must be viewed. The FBI could show up at anyone’s door with a battering ram and a questionable search warrant. And they’re doing it.
If the United States is going to be a free country, this has to stop. It’s time to pick up the phone and call your representatives in Washington. We need bipartisan, bicameral hearings to investigate abuses in federal law enforcement agencies. Attention all units.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group.
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