McCaskill for Missouri Files Complaint to Demand Attorney General Appoint a Special Prosecutor
Given the Attorney General’s promotion and encouragement of this fraud, the campaign is requesting a special prosecutor.
See below for full text of the letter delivered to the Attorney General’s office, and to view the exhibits referenced in the letter below, click here.
October 18, 2018
Attorney General Josh Hawley
Missouri Attorney General’s Office
Supreme Court Building
207 W. High Street
P.O. Box 899
Jefferson City, Missouri 65102
Re: Complaint, Evidence of Crime, and Request for Special Prosecutor to Investigate Possible Felonies Committed by Project Veritas
Attorney General Hawley:
I represent Claire McCaskill and McCaskill for Missouri. As you are aware from public reports, a “not for profit” group called Project Veritas (led by convicted criminal, James O’Keefe) recently admitted that it used false pretenses to gain access to Ms. McCaskill and individuals associated with her campaign. Project Veritas then secretly filmed interactions and released the footage publicly.
There is probable cause to believe that Project Veritas has committed a class D felony under Missouri law. We request you appoint a special prosecutor and forward this complaint to them for further investigation and charges as appropriate. Given your current candidacy for the Senate seat held by Ms. McCaskill, we are sure you will agree that it would be appropriate for you to recuse yourself from the matter. In addition, you have actively promoted these illegally obtained videos for the perceived benefit of your own campaign, which calls for recusal.
Based on public reporting, we understand you are at least generally aware of the situation. The Kansas City Star has quoted you as saying, “if you have evidence of a crime, please come forward with it immediately.” Jason Hancock, McCaskill demands Hawley’s office investigate hidden/camera videos of her campaign, KANSAS CITY STAR, October 17, 2018.
We do have such evidence and here it is.
The Attorney General has primary responsibility for enforcement of Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act, Chapter 407 RSMo. The Act clearly applies to this situation. In Missouri, it is unlawful to use deception, fraud, and misrepresentation “in connection with” the “solicitation of any funds for any charitable purpose.” 407.020, RSMo. The use of deception, false pretense, etc… is illegal regardless of whether “committed before, during or after the…solicitation.”
Project Veritas is a “charitable” organization. It applied for and was granted tax exempt status by the IRS (EIN 27-2894856). (See Exhibit A, Project Veritas IRS Form 990s for 2015 and 2016) Project Veritas’ filings with the IRS admit that the types of “investigations” at issue here are part of the organization’s mission. In other words, the making of videos under false pretense are an important part of the organization’s effort to raise money. Although Project Veritas does not publicly disclose the names of its donors, we know that they accepted over three million dollars in 2015 and again in 2016. Videos of this type are regularly posted on the Project Veritas website in order to drive traffic to the website and solicit donations from viewers of the videos. (See Exhibit B, Screenshots from Project Veritas Website).
Although Project Veritas is not registered to do business in Missouri, nor is it registered with your office as a charitable organization, Mr. O’Keefe and Project Veritas, blatantly disregarded the requirement of candor and honesty when raising money for a charitable organization by deceptively obtaining access to facilities and individuals in Missouri. To do so, they misrepresented their identity (See Exhibit C, affidavit of Luke Tonant) and deceitfully omitted that they were affiliated with Project Veritas (Id). Neither Ms. McCaskill nor the staffers interviewed would have consented to any conversations at all had they known the individuals were affiliated with convicted criminal, James O’Keefe. (Id.).They also did not disclose they were filming the conversations. (Id.) Mr. O’Keefe’s deceptive and fraudulent practices in Missouri for the purpose of raising money for a “charitable” organization violate the letter and spirit of the law.
This complaint involves a fairly straightforward violation of the law. In 2000, Attorney General Jay Nixon sued the Benetton corporation for similar deceptions. “National News Briefs; Missouri Sues Benetton Over Death Row Ads,” N.Y. Times, February 11, 2000. Courts recognize that trespassing under false pretenses is actionable even when the perpetrator claims to be engaged in “journalism.” In Food Lion Inc v. Capital Cities/ABC Inc., 194 F.3d 505 (4th Cir. 1999), journalists went undercover to expose unsanitary practices in a grocery store chain. While Project Veritas certainly is not a journalistic endeavor, the real journalists there were found to be trespassing and, while those real journalists deserved some deference under the law, the court found that laws of general applicability will withstand constitutional challenge even though they are being applied to journalists.
Project Veritas is not a journalistic endeavor. Moreover, these individuals knew or should have known that what they were doing was illegal because they have engaged in this unlawful and unacceptable behavior in the past. In 2010, Mr. O’Keefe pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation, community service and required to pay a fine for breaking into Senator Mary Landrieu’s office. (Exhibit D). A Federal Judge called Mr. O’Keefe’s conduct there “nefarious and potentially dangerous.”
Since his sentencing, O’Keefe has also faced a string of lawsuits relating to his continued penchant for misrepresentation. In 2017, the American Federation of Teachers affiliate in Michigan filed suit against Project Veritas for “infiltrating and illegally gathering proprietary information” from AFT. And in June 2018, several organizations filed suit seeking more than $1 million dollars in actual damages plus an undetermined amount for punitive damages for Project Veritas’s similar behavior where a Project Veritas agent posed as an intern to trespass on private property. (See Exhibit E)
In light of these deceptive tactics, you should request a special prosecutor investigate these disturbing events and assist with any additional prosecutions as may be brought by local prosecutors.
Stinson Leonard Street LLP
Charles W. Hatfield