Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Unrigging Rigging the Election II

With Halloween approaching, right-wing con-artist James O'Keefe has again dressed up as a journalist and handed out for tricks and treats the first three videos in a new series, "Rigging the Election," alleging misdeeds by Democratic operatives in the ongoing presidential campaign. As covered here Saturday, the first video in this series proved a witch's brew of misrepresentation, obfuscation and dubious assertions that attempted to cook up the impression in low-information viewers of a scandal from materials that didn't support the conclusion. With the second, O'Keefe's trick--or, depending on the audience, treat--is the Blob, a mushy, formless accusation of voter fraud he hopes will devour Democrats.

The problems with that first video are only amplified in the next, in which, O'Keefe asserts, "Democratic operatives tell us how to successfully commit voter fraud on a massive scale." Once again, Scott Foval is the star of the show. As noted in my previous article,

"Foval seems to like to run his mouth. He brags about how he's a guy who, unlike some of his more timid comrades, gets things done and doesn't worry too much about niceties like legality. Speaks in often grandiose terms. Tells some stories that sound a bit far-fetched. Foval is the central focus of both of O'Keefe's videos and the sole source for what O'Keefe's spins into the sensational allegation around which the first is built and everything he says comes through a cloud of hot air offered in what appears to be a series of saloons! While drinking."

So it's back to the bar! O'Keefe explains:

"Our investigators wanted to know what it would take to get the highest favorable turnout. Democratic politico Scott Foval was our target and he was more than willing to lead us through the process of how to rig an election."

The characterization of Foval in the context of "Democratic operatives" and, directly, as a "Democratic politico" is weasel-wording; Foval is, himself, a Democrat (presumably) and his activities support Democratic causes but he works for Americans United For Change, not for the Democratic party, and that distinction is significant in the context of these videos. In what follows, O'Keefe's tale is that Foval concocts a voter fraud scheme and O'Keefe's operatives shop it around to Robert Creamer of Democracy Partners (another return character from the first vid) and Cesar Vargas of the DREAM Action Coalition. Though O'Keefe describes this vid as "part 2 of our undercover investigation of the dark, backroom dealings of the Hillary Clinton campaign," none of these individuals are employed by the Clinton campaign.

In a bit of editing cynical enough to be funny, O'Keefe joins Foval already in progress, in the middle of a story about how people "manipulate the vote." Foval says "we did it to them when we were in charge too. We did the exact same thing." Who is "we"? Who is "them"? Presumably, the "them" are Republicans but O'Keefe chopped off the first part of the story wherein Foval apparently explained what those Republicans had done to manipulate the vote. Entirely unintentional, I'm sure.

There's another cut and Foval is talking about Republicans complaining that "they're bussing people in" and then crows about how "we've been bussing people in to deal with you fucking assholes for fifty years and we're not going to stop now." Bussing who? Bussing them where? For what purpose? "To deal with you fucking assholes" is as clear as mud. Foval is talking about how "they used to bus people out to Iowa." One of the tactics used by Americans United For Change, Foval's employer, involves bussing demonstrators from state to state. Last year, for example, AUFC arranged to take a busload of Wisconsinites to the Iowa State Fair to protest an appearance there by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, then a GOP presidential hopeful. Is this what Foval is describing? The complete lack of any sort of context or clarification here invites readers to draw their own conclusions based on what follows.

And what follows is O'Keefe trying to plug a massive hole. "The plan that was discussed," he says, "is how to bring people from one state into another state to vote illegally." Note the weasel-wording--"the plan that was discussed"--that leaves on the cutting-room floor who suggested this plan, which is certainly O'Keefe's operative. If Foval had done so, it's inconceivable that O'Keefe would leave out that footage. Foval never even articulates the gist of the plan O'Keefe claims is being discussed and the details of this alleged plan remain amorphous--liquid right to the end of the video and not, one suspects, unintentionally. Contrary to O'Keefe's set-up--that Foval is "more than willing to lead us through the process"--it's clear in some of the footage that it's O'Keefe's operative who is doing the leading. It's the operative, for example, who suggests how to establish addresses for, O'Keefe claims, "their phony voters." Foval even congratulates him at one point. "That's brilliant. I love it." O'Keefe leaves out the footage of the origin of this scheme then, after having left viewers with the impression it started with Foval, flatly refers, later in the video, to "the voter fraud scheme that Foval created."

So what's this really about? Various aspects of some sort of scheme or schemes are being kicked around through the heavy edits[1] but it's all theoretical discussion, with the alleged larger plan never outlined. At one point, Foval says

"what you do is you implement the plan on a much bigger scale.You implement a massive change in state legislatures and in congress. So you aim higher for your goals and you implement it across every Republican-held state."

...which sounds nothing at all like what O'Keefe claims they're discussing but it does sound extraordinarily grandiose and unfeasible, which lends the entire conversation an air of a couple of guys sitting around a tavern, knockin' 'em back and engaging in a bullshit session. Say, you've been involved in the politics business--how could we put together a voter fraud scheme and get away with it? This would explain why they're comfortable openly discussing a scheme that, if O'Keefe's characterization is correct, would be incredibly illegal right in the midst of a bar full of people. This would also explain why, contrary to every conceivable journalistic rule of thumb, O'Keefe chose to entirely omit the set-up for this entire conversation. Most importantly, this--the most likely explanation for what's occurring--would render the entire thing a non-story.

To continue his tale, O'Keefe drops in a clip in which Foval says "Bob Creamer comes up with a lot of these ideas," and goes on to explain how he and Creamer think alike. It implies Creamer is a shady guy who comes up with "ideas" like this voter fraud scheme but nothing in the clip connects these comments to that particular scheme. To reinforce the impression he's created, O'Keefe immediately rehashes Creamer's legal troubles from over a decade ago.[2]

Another O'Keefe operative is then shown making a pitch to Creamer. The operative, who was apparently posing as a donor, says "Steve"--whoever that may be is never stated--"was talking to Scott"--presumably Scott Foval, though that too is never stated--and passed along an idea "they envisioned" and that he likes. "What do you need to be able to vote?" He says you need an ID card and a pay stub showing a local address then suggests hiring people at his business. "I could use them as day laborers or whatever and use them and find my way around the... voter registration laws for Hispanics... We could register huge numbers of people that way." The careless listener is supposed to read "Hispanic" as "illegal immigrant" but the operative never says that and, in fact, never suggests anything illegal at all--he's talking about registering Hispanics to vote. Further, Creamer knows Foval and probably knows "Steve," meaning he knows they wouldn't send someone to him with a voter fraud scheme. Creamer says "this is very important, this stuff" and offers to put the fellow in contact with "people who are most involved in Hispanic voter registration... [T]here are a couple of different organizations, that's are, that's their big trick."

Now, having left the viewer with the false impression that Creamer just agreed to assist in a voter fraud scheme, O'Keefe offers a clip of Foval saying "Bob Creamer is diabolical and I love him for it. I have learned so much from that man in the last twenty years, I can't even tell you."

O'Keefe then says what he'd earlier just implied: "We had our 'donor' set up a second meeting with Bob Creamer to see how he could help put this voter fraud plan into motion." A little later, he refers to it as "the voter fraud scheme that Foval created," but in none of the footage of Foval talking about this alleged scheme is Foval shown "creating" even a single element of the idea that had been shown being put to Creamer. And what was put to Creamer on camera wasn't a voter fraud scheme--it was about legally registering Hispanic voters. In the second meeting with Creamer, the O'Keefe operative suggests he could "issue corporate IDs" for these theoretical voters and O'Keefe immediately cuts away, never showing the rest of his own op's comment. The viewer is meant to assume such "corporate IDs" are a scheme to allow people to skirt voter registration laws but they wouldn't actually allow for that. Foval, in the early portion of the video, mentions, as states ripe for whatever is being discussed, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The fake "donor" who goes to see Creamer also mentions Michigan and includes Illinois. A quick trip over to Rock The Vote reveals that all of those states except Illinois require a government-issued ID. If that's the big scheme, it's a non-starter and Creamer and Foval would probably know this.

Creamer says as much when he spoke to Sam Stein of the Huffington Post on Friday about this matter, offering, more broadly, his side of what happened:
"One of the undercover Project Veritas videographers got to Creamer by posing as a donor. Creamer was introduced to the videographer by Foval, who was also under the impression that the 'donor' was concerned about the immigrant community and eager to subsidize methods for mobilizing them politically.

"'I met with him and he sold me completely,' Creamer recalled. 'He was a very genuine guy who had a whole story about his family history. He was great.'

"Creamer said that he first pitched the 'donor' on doing a bus trip to help get out the vote. He says the Project Veritas 'donor' then suggested the scheme involving hiring undocumented workers, issuing them corporate IDs and pay stubs and getting them registered in battleground states.

"'Frankly, I didn't understand what he was proposing, because corporate IDs wouldn’t do the job,' Creamer said. 'It has to be a government ID.'

"But instead of dismissing the man outright and ending the conversation, Creamer said, he tried to steer him toward other ideas. The 'donor' struck him as someone who was passionate but not well-versed in electoral law...'This guy seemed well-motivated,' Creamer said. 'And I thought, he is just naive about what's available, what is possible and what is legal.'"
In an email to the Huffington Post that same day, Foval told a similar story:
"Despite our attempts to redirect the conversation and actions towards positive, results-oriented, legal and ethical political organizing, O’Keefe’s crew of imposters continued to walk down a path of deception and manipulation. Our team took the high road, deciding to not indulge the imposters in their dubious scheme, rather attempting to put our energies and intentions towards positive activities that garner electorally relevant results. All who view these recordings should remember that they were speculative conversations where we attempted to correct a misguided idea put forth by O’Keefe and his cronies, and we did not take the bait."
In the video, Creamer, upon getting more details from the fake donor (and whatever those details may be, we're not shown them), begins to get the idea that what's being put to him would be perceived as a "big voter fraud scheme" and declines to assist. As O'Keefe puts it, he "hesitated" to participate. O'Keefe cuts to a clip of Foval talking about a conversation he had with Creamer:

"Bob came back to me and asked me, 'What is he talking about?' I told him what we were talking about. And he said 'Well, I'm not gonna' touch that with a ten-foot pole now.' I go 'Nor should you.'"

O'Keefe's operative chimes in: "Good advice."

"Nor should you," Foval continues. "He goes, 'Good, I'm glad we're on the same page there.'

The viewer is meant to assume this happened after that second meeting between Creamer and the fake donor but as usual, O'Keefe refuses to provide a timeline or any context. And what are they even talking about? An alleged voter fraud scheme that is impossible to execute and that no one in any of the footage has even articulated? There is a reason O'Keefe in his editing is perpetually treating the details of this alleged scheme like vapor.

Foval says there are other people "who can make things happen," people Creamer doesn't "need to know about" but then suggests Creamer actually will know about them anyway. O'Keefe:

"Foval told us about a guy in New York who works with Creamer a lot  We wondered if he was the guy who could pull off the voter fraud scheme."

Cut to a clip of Foval telling the operative about Cesar Vargas, one of the founders of the DREAM Action Coalition, which works for immigration reform, and is himself an undocumented immigrant. "Bob is really good friends with him [Vargas] and talked to him this afternoon." The impression is that after Creamer turned down the scheme, he and Foval arranged for O'Keefe's operative to meet Vargas, who may assist them in it but it's just a bunch of editing. The Foval footage is from a different day than the "ten-foot pole" conversation--it's a different locale and he's wearing a different shirt and a tie, which he didn't have in the earlier clip--and Foval never mentions anything about any scheme and O'Keefe's set-up--"we wondered if"--doesn't actually tie his op's intro to Vargas to one either. Vargas has authored an article in the Nation offering his side of what happened. As he tells it, the people with whom he met were sold to him as representatives of a donor "who supposedly wanted to give money to the immigrant-rights movement," which is consistent with Creamer's explanation.

The alleged scheme, as outlined to Vargas, morphs again. O'Keefe's operative describes it as "essentially getting people on a bus or whatever, taking them around the country. They can legally vote. At the same time, they're also getting work permits under a different name and again voting on behalf of people who cannot vote." No one in the video before that moment had discussed any such double-voting scheme. Foval, in his comments about transporting people (to whatever), had in fact specifically said not to use a bus.

The inclusion of Vargas seems practically random. He doesn't work for the DNC; he's just a lawyer and activist in New York. He's on the receiving end of O'Keefe's worst hatchet-job with the editing suite here. The operative puts the apparently newly-reimagined scheme to him, he barely gets in a few words (about the 2018 midterm elections) and then O'Keefe throws in an edit. What follows are a series of clips of comments by Vargas that are presented as his responses to the scheme but that don't actually seem to be connected to it at all. Vargas explains how "this is not gonna' happen this election." What's not going to happen? He says if Donald Trump is elected, "it even makes more sense." What makes more sense? "The issue will be more credible and much more opportunity for us to jump in to this." What issue? Viewers are left with the impression it's the scheme but it doesn't make any sense to describe it that way. Cut/cut/cut. At one point, Vargas says "count me in." Count him in on what? All of this is missing and if it was actually in reference to the scheme, it wouldn't be. To compensate, O'Keefe offers a particularly outrageous sleight-of-hand: His running, on-screen script records his operative as saying, "I assume you don't go tell these conversations to anybody? Because this is technically, you know, vote fraud," and Vargas replies "No, absolutely. Absolutely." But in the video, the operative doesn't actually say "vote fraud"--she just trails off with "you know..." In the last clip of Vargas, he's saying "As an activist, do we want to do this? Do we want to take the chance? Let's talk about it." Do what? Talk about what? Take what chance? If Vargas was actually saying any of these things about a voter fraud scheme, it wouldn't be left to rest entirely on inference.

As Vargas explains:
"To set the record straight: I am not an operative for the Democratic Party. I did not agree that I would drive a busload of people to commit voter fraud, nor did I agree that I would help anyone commit voter fraud. I met with the group only once, for less than an hour... I was explaining what the outcome of the presidential election will mean for the future of voter-ID laws, which have prevented thousands of Americans from voting; the role of civil disobedience in politics; and the role of activists in planning those protests... During our short conversation, I explained a few times the effective work that my organization, the DREAM Action Coalition, has done and that has been covered by the media... Throughout the conversation, the two conservative operatives said that their fake donor wanted to go beyond this kind of activism and help people vote twice, as a way to enfranchise those who can’t vote. Several times, I informed them that voting twice is illegal, but I told them we could go another route to give people who don’t have a vote a voice in the election.

"In light of Tea Party efforts around the country to make it harder for minorities to vote, I told them, their donor could immediately support a campaign that would elevate the voices of American citizens who want to commit their vote on behalf of their undocumented loved ones. Another option was to support initiatives like the NYC ID program, which allows anyone, regardless of immigration status, to obtain a much-needed identification card and thus gain more access to civil society. Despite these options, the operatives were pushy in their donor’s desire to help people to vote twice all over the country.

"I assured them my confidence and allowed them to talk about their schemes as a way to humor a potential supporter. Needless to say, never would I have participated in any voter-fraud scheme. The unedited video tells the complete story."[3]
Creamer echoes that last. "Creamer said O'Keefe's tapes make a misleading case," writes the HuffPost's Stein, "and that if the full footage were made public, those deceptions would be evident." Creamer calls for the footage to be made public, something O'Keefe has, to date, adamantly refused to do.

Without O'Keefe's dubious narrative and editorial games, it isn't at all clear the three segments of this video--Foval, Creamer, Vargas--are even related to one another. All three of the principals involved have indicated they had a potential donor who was a bit misguided but had a common interest in various issues and they were trying to be helpful and steer him in a more positive direction, which, unlike O'Keefe's explanation, does seem to match the footage insofar as Creamer and Vargas are concerned. Foval is talking about some sort of scheme in the first segment but the conversation has all the earmarks of a barroom bullshit session and contrary to O'Keefe, nothing that is actually discussed in it on camera--procuring cars, apparently setting up dummy addresses, operating in states with weak laws, carrying out some sort of legislative revolution--makes its way into any of the other segments and O'Keefe's operatives are the ones shopping around in those other segments, not Foval. O'Keefe's assertion that this is the same scheme being discussed throughout is false. No single scheme is ever articulated; the details offered in each segment contradict the details offered in the other segments. Most importantly, no one ever clearly agrees to have anything to do with any of these schemes (except, briefly, the one that wasn't presented as voter fraud) and despite O'Keefe's assertion that this is an investigation of "the Hillary Clinton campaign," no one who appears is employed by that campaign and there's never any effort to connect any of this to it or even to the DNC, except by inference.

In 1958, a young Steve McQueen managed to vanquish the Blob. Like a lot of movie monsters, it managed to return but the second time around, the film was a flop. That's O'Keefe's Blob. As Halloween approaches, O'Keefe promises even more such critters. Be wary!



[1] Bespeaking the missing footage, the music on the jukebox in the background is different in every clip.

[2] As in the first video, O'Keefe says Creamer "pled guilty on tax violations and bank fraud," then in the breath says "he was convicted..."

[3] Vargas, the lawyer, notes that O'Keefe's tactics are "possible grounds for defamation" but perhaps canny of the reaction any suit by himself, an undocumented immigrant, would draw, he indicates he won't be filing one.

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