A jury has awarded $120,000 to a Democratic political strategist targeted in a 2016 Project Veritas sting exposing the group’s campaign tactics, prompting the guerrilla journalism outfit to announce it will appeal.
The jury found Thursday that Project Veritas violated federal and Washington, D.C., wiretapping laws and fraudulently misrepresented itself during an undercover operation in which an investigator used a false name and biography to obtain an unpaid internship with Democracy Partners.
Robert Creamer, co-founder of Democracy Partners and owner of Strategic Consulting Group, thanked the jury for its decision. All three were named plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“Hopefully, the decision today will help to discourage Mr. O’Keefe and others from conducting these kinds of political spy operations – and publishing selectively edited, misleading videos in the future,” he said in a statement.
The weeklong trial was closely watched for its implications on undercover newsgathering, a practice with a storied 150-year history that has increasingly fallen out of favor with mainstream outlets over concerns about using deception to find the truth.
Mr. O’Keefe, who has feuded with the media establishment over tactics since founding Project Veritas in 2011, characterized the verdict as a defeat for journalism and the First Amendment.
“The jury effectively ruled investigative journalists owe a fiduciary duty to the subjects they are investigating and that investigative journalists may not deceive the subjects they are investigating,” said Mr. O’Keefe. “Journalism is on trial, and Project Veritas will continue to fight for every journalist’s right to news-gather, investigate, and expose wrongdoing – regardless of how powerful the investigated party may be. Project Veritas will not be intimidated.”
Mr. Creamer sought more than $1 million in damages after explosive hidden-camera footage released in October 2016 showed Democratic strategists discussing voter fraud and planting paid agitators at Trump campaign events.
Mr. Creamer, who is married to Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, stepped down from the Hillary Clinton campaign, while strategist Scott Foval was fired from his post as national field director for Americans United for Change.
Project Veritas investigator Daniel Sandini, posing as fictitious Democratic donor “Charles Roth,” told Mr. Creamer that he had a niece named “Angela Brandt” who wanted to volunteer for campaign work while on break from college.
In reality, “Angela Brandt” was Allison Maass, who used a hidden recording device to gain information about Democracy Partners and Strategic Consulting Group, a member of Democracy Partners owned by Mr. Creamer, that subcontracted with a contractor for the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Creamer said he lost contracts after the undercover footage showed operatives discussing voter fraud and describing how they used paid agitators to provoke Trump supporters outside campaign rallies to gain media coverage, a practice known as “bracketing.”
The jury ruled in favor of Project Veritas on a claim of violating federal and Washington, D.C., wiretapping laws because the investigator “was a participant in all conversations she recorded,” said Project Veritas.
“The verdict represents a setback in journalistic integrity — effectively allowing subjects to dictate the way in which a journalist gathers and reports the news. Project Veritas will appeal,” said the organization.
Project Veritas also said that it has “continually refused to settle the case as it has done nothing wrong.”
The case was heard in the Perryman federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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