Opinion | Prospective jurors in Project Veritas trial get grilled on undercover tactics
“I don’t think it’s fair to record anyone without their consent,” said one prospective juror who was interviewed Wednesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, where a nine-person jury will hear opening arguments on Thursday morning.
Project Veritas, which was founded by James O’Keefe, is a video-sting operation popular among conservatives for its much-hyped attempts to highlight liberal bias in American institutions. It used false names and other tactics during the 2016 presidential campaign to plant one of its staffers in the offices of Democracy Partners, an umbrella group of political consultants who assisted the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. Democracy Partners subsequently sued Project Veritas over a number of alleged offenses, including fraudulent misrepresentation and unlawful wiretapping. (Read more about the case here.)
The opposing parties earlier this month filed a joint juror questionnaire containing 56 questions designed to sniff out conflicts of interest, biases, covid concerns and other possible roadblocks to a fair trial. There were four questions about interns, most likely because the Project Veritas infiltrator secured an internship at Democracy Partners.
O’Keefe has said he runs the “nation’s premier, perhaps the nation’s only, undercover investigative journalism organization,” so it makes sense that his attorneys want to know which folks in the jury pool dislike this sort of work. One of the prospective jurors, for example, said she studies mass communications and regards undercover journalism as “kind of wrong,” adding that journalists “should do it in an honest way.”
Paul Calli, a Miami-based lawyer representing Project Veritas, asked the woman how she had arrived at her opinion. She cited the often aggressive reporting tactics of TMZ and said that if people don’t want to answer questions about their lives, then they should be left alone. Calli asked if she would change her viewpoint if the issues related to political malfeasance and not people’s personal lives.
“I guess it would change my views a little,” responded the prospective juror, who paused before adding, “No, actually, I don’t think it would. I still feel like it’s a bit dishonest.” Calli responded, “I appreciate your candor, and the court does as well.” Friedman excused the woman from serving on the jury.
This being D.C., a veteran political operative was in the jury pool — a man who had worked on several Democratic campaigns and now works for the political action committee of a trade association. He told the court that he was previously a political tracker, essentially an ambulant recording machine who monitors the events of opposing candidates. Asked about the highest rung he had reached on the political-operative career ladder, he responded that it was “field director.”
He also claimed that he’d “vaguely heard about” Project Veritas. On the matter of undercover news videos, he said that they make him “uncomfortable” and “itchy.”
Calli petitioned Friedman to remove the man from eligibility, arguing that his profession lies in the “wheelhouse” of Project Veritas’s critics — and that his claim to be “vaguely” familiar with it strains credulity. He also noted that the man had done fieldwork for Democratic candidates, which is precisely the activity at issue in the Project Veritas videos on Democracy Partners.
Friedman denied Calli’s attempt to have the man stricken from the jury pool.
Another item on the prospective jurors’ questionnaire related to news diet. One prospective juror reported that she read The Post, particularly the front page, Style and Sports sections. Calli asked her about the Erik Wemple Blog, which has published many articles on Project Veritas. “Do you read his stuff?”
“No,” she responded. Strike that prospective juror forthwith!