Last Updated on March 25, 2022
Justice Department Accused of Assault on Free Speech and Free Press in the Project Veritas Case
by Jonathan Turley @ JonathanTurley.org
I previously wrote about deep concerns over the FBI investigation of Project Veritas over the missing diary of Ashley Biden, daughter of President Joe Biden. The use of the FBI in a case involving a missing diary is itself difficult to square with its priorities, let alone the different treatment given the New York Times. Now, counsel for Project Veritas has filed a motion detailing what could be a very serious violation of court orders as well as an attack on free speech and free press.
There has been relatively little attention to the extraordinary efforts of the Biden Justice Department in pursuing those connected with the disappearance of the diary of the President’s daughter. The concern is that the FBI is acting like a Praetorian Guard in acting on what is a crime ordinarily handled on a local level.
The controversy over Ashley Biden‘s diary began during her father’s campaign for the presidency in 2020. Like her brother Hunter, Ashley has struggled with addiction and was living in a two-bedroom house in Delray Beach, Fla., with a friend. According to the New York Times, she decided to go to Philadelphia but to leave some belongings in two bags in the Delray house. The owner later allowed a friend named Aimee Harris and her two children to move in. The Times strongly suggests that Ms. Harris searched the possessions, noting that she was hard up for money and was also a Trump supporter. The Times then simply says “exactly what happened next remains the subject of the federal investigation.”
Project Veritas and its founder, James O’Keefe, maintained that they were given the diary by a “tipster” but decided not to use it. Indeed, the group later turned over the material to law enforcement.
As noted by the New York Times, court records show that on Oct. 12, 2020, O’Keefe told Project Veritas staff that said they would not publish a story about the diary. He explained that, while they had “no doubt the document is real,” he was concerned that publishing the diary would be seen “as a cheap shot.”
Now we have new details of the lengths that the government has gone in this case, including allegedly evading a court order to protect the confidentiality of journalistic and attorney-client material.
In its 45-page court filing, counsel accused the Department of Justice of such circumvention after Microsoft recently revealed that the DOJ had previously seized Project Veritas documents from a cloud account using a warrant. I testified on such abuses recently in Congress.
The Project describes the investigation as “retributive” on behalf of the Biden Administration. It did so with “extreme measures that violate the First Amendment and corrode freedom of the press,” according to the filing.
Judge Torres appointed a special master, retired U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, to protect confidential information on Dec. 8, 2021 in the Southern District of New York. The court specifically recognized that “potential First Amendment concerns that may be implicated by the review of the materials seized from Petitioners.” However, the letter from Project Veritas counsel states:
“We have recently learned, however, that the government already had in place mechanisms for circumventing these protective processes and invading the First Amendment and attorney- client privileges of Project Veritas and its journalists, the existence of which the government concealed from counsel for Project Veritas and its journalists and, we believe, from this Court. We have discovered that from November 2020 to April 2021, the government used compulsory demands, including secret warrants and 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) orders, to obtain voluminous materials from Microsoft, the email services provider used by Project Veritas, spanning the email accounts of eight journalists and Project Veritas’s Human Resources Manager.
…It appears that the government misled this Court by omission, failing to disclose during the briefing and arguments over the appointment of a Special Master that the government had already obtained through these surreptitious actions many of the privileged communications this Court charged the Special Master with protecting. The government’s clandestine invasions of journalist’s communications corrode the rule of law.”
That is a familiar pattern and was discussed at the prior congressional hearing.
Some of the search demands clearly would implicate areas that the court previously sought to protect with the appointment of Judge Brown as special master. That includes:
According to court papers attached to the letter, here is some of what the feds were after:
b. Evidence of communications regarding or in furtherance of the Subject Offenses, such as communications with or regarding Ashley Biden, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (and representatives thereof), and/or Ashley Biden’s associates regarding her stolen property.
c. Evidence of the location of Ashley Biden’s property and the location of the user of the Subject Account at times relevant to the Subject Offenses, such as communications that reference particular geographic locations or refer to the property being located in a particular place.
d. Evidence of the identity and locations of potential co-conspirators, such as communications with other individuals about obtaining, transporting, transferring, disseminating, or otherwise disposing of Ashley Biden’s stolen property, including but not limited to communications reflecting the knowledge of co-conspirators that the property obtained from Ashley Biden had been stolen, and communications that contain personally identifiable information of co-conspirators and references to co-conspirators’ places of residence or locations at particular points in time.
e. Evidence regarding the value of any of Ashley Biden’s stolen property, such as communications about the resale or market value of any of the items stolen from her, or any plans to sell or market the same.
f. Evidence of steps taken in preparation for or in furtherance of the Subject Offenses, such as surveillance of Ashley Biden or property associated with her, and drafts of communications to Ashley Biden, President Biden, and Ashley Biden’s associates regarding her stolen property and communications among co-conspirators discussing what to do with her property.
Any search of those sweeping terms would net confidential and privileged information.
Putting aside the concerns over a crackdown on a journalistic organization, there remain unanswered questions over why this extraordinary effort was launched by the FBI over a missing diary.
The concerns over the Project Veritas investigation continue to mount, but neither Congress nor the media have demanded answers from the Biden Administration.