Friday, October 28, 2016

Unrigging Rigging The Election IV

On Wednesday, right-wing con-artist and self-styled "journalist" James O'Keefe released the fourth video in his "Rigging the Election" series, purporting to allege wrongdoing in the ongoing presidential race by the Hillary Clinton campaign. The first three videos, examined here, here and here, wee a swampy mess, any legitimate issues they raised being hopelessly consumed by O'Keefe's trademark brand of obfuscation, misdirection and falsehood.

O'Keefe's latest offering begins with a sort of greatest hits package, recycling material from the previous installments. Through the course of all of these releases, O'Keefe has been updating his narrative to keep it in-the-now. It's worth noting, in light of this, that he continues to repeat many of the falsehoods from those prior projects, rather than correcting them.

--The series' opening title sequence continues to include Aaron Black's assertion that he's "deputy rapid response director for the DNC for all things Trump on the ground," a claim that was exposed as false by Time on 18 Oct., right after the release of the first video.

--"In April," says O'Keefe, "we started uncovering the aggressive birddogging that was secretly done by the Clinton campaign. It's an underhanded nationwide operation to foment violence at Trump rallies." In reality, bird-dogging, which O'Keefe presented in his first video as some sort of innovative code, is merely the longstanding practice by activists of publicly asking candidates questions, usually ones that are politically tough for them to answer, and trying to get them on the record as either responding or dodging the issue. It has nothing whatsoever to do with fomenting violence. As this blog documented at the time, a simple Google search would have explained the tactic and provided endless examples of groups employing it. David Weigel in the Washington Post also pointed out its true nature. O'Keefe didn't really even need a search engine or the Post--Scott Foval of Americans United For Change correctly described the practice in footage used in O'Keefe's first video, but O'Keefe simply ignored that footage in order to construct his own false claims. Here, O'Keefe clings to that earlier falsehood by showing a clip of Foval referring to bird-dogging as "conflict engagement." As for the "done by the Clinton campaign," Foval isn't employed by the Clinton campaign.

--O'Keefe takes a step back from his claim in his third video that the Clinton campaign was violating federal campaign coordination laws repeats with regard to the Donald Ducks campaign (covered here), but without noting he's doing so. There, he'd flatly said the campaign was "breaking federal campaign coordination laws" and that "the campaign law violations" are "undeniable." Here, those previous assertions have disappeared, replaced by weasel-wording: "We were also growing gathering evidence that the Clinton campaign was violating the federal election campaign coordination laws." And he shows a brief clip of Bob Creamer of Democracy Partners attributing the duck idea to Clinton. But that previous video explained the origin of that comment--someone had told Clinton about the idea and she'd loved it. It wasn't her idea, the Clinton campaign never fielded the duck and those who did manage it weren't employed by that campaign.

--"Scott Foval gave us a primer on how to commit massive voter fraud," says O'Keefe, then shows a clip of Foval talking about "bussing people in." This comes from O'Keefe's second video, but as covered here, there's no indication in the footage of what Foval is even describing with that comment. If it was actually connected to the voter fraud scheme O'Keefe had alleged, O'Keefe would have certainly shown the full context illustrating this.

With that, O'Keefe is on to the subject of his new video, which proves to be the easiest one to address, as it doesn't actually make any new allegations. It's merely about an O'Keefe operative posing as a donor who, in order to keep his foot in the door so O'Keefe's undercover antics could continue, gives a $20,000 donation to Americans United For Change.

That's it. That's all. It's as if O'Keefe ran out of steam. After making the donation, O'Keefe says, "Creamer, Foval, Jenna Price from the DNC, Brad Woodhouse from AUFC, Cesar Vargas and others had opened the door to their smoke-filled rooms of illegal and dirty campaign dealings," without ever outlining any "illegal and dirty campaign dealings."

As O'Keefe tells the story, he set up a dummy corporation and associated bank account in Belize, for decades a haven for shady money and transfers of same. "This is typically the actions of drug dealers and tax-dodging white-collar criminals," O'Keefe explains. "We used it as a cover." The subhead O'Keefe slapped on the video says "$20k Wire Transfer From Belize Returned," a reference to the fact that AUFC head Brad Woodhouse, upon learning of O'Keefe's operation, returned the donation. "Woodhouse told a journalist that AUFC was going to return the $20,000--he was concerned it might have been an illegal foreign donation. We were happy to get the wire transfer showing the $20,000 was returned but we wondered why it wasn't a problem for the previous month that Woodhouse had the money.

This entire narrative, it turns out, is an utter fraud. A Thursday article from Time picks it apart:
"As a non-profit under section 501(c)4 of the tax code, Americans United is not barred from taking foreign cash, much to the dismay of good government advocates. It might not look good, but it’s not illegal.

"The money transfer... appears to have come in much differently than O’Keefe describes, one reason it did not set off any red flags with Americans United... [O'Keefe] says he used a shell corporation from Belize to move the cash to Americans United, which shares a consultant with the DNC. An emergency internal audit at Americans United, which for the last week has been the target of O’Keefe’s videos, pulled the receipt for the transfer. The money was received from The Bank of New York Mellon, incorporated at the same address as TIME Magazine’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. Americans United allowed TIME to review these documents.

"What’s more, the Sept. 9 transfer receipt shows that the customer who ordered the money moved is registered in Stamford, Conn. The exact address is used by Veritas executive director Russell J. Verney as his residence on his Connecticut voting registration forms. Verney also lists that address on forms filed with the state of Virginia incorporating Project Veritas. And that shell corporation? It lists its address these days as Verney’s Connecticut home—a far cry from the colony formerly known as British Honduras.

"(O’Keefe, however, did route the cash through Heritage Bank in Belize to justify his claims. But the cash was sent from an American address, via an American bank, to an American political group. Even though it’s not illegal, O’Keefe is definitely trying to get his headlines here by claiming this is foreign cash. The documents he released to back up his claim appear to black out the Stamford, Conn., address.)"[*]
Woodhouse didn't say he was returning the donation because of any concern over it being foreign. His comment, reproduced in that same Time piece: "We returned the money because the last thing we want to be associated with is a character like O'Keefe who has been convicted and successfully sued for his illegal tactics and fraudulent activities."



[*] I discovered an example of O'Keefe outright altering a screencap in order to further his narrative. At one point in the video, O'Keefe is building up Creamer's status as a Democratic insider. "Bob Creamer was listed as AUFC's general consultant until our stories about their shady activities were released," he O'Keefe and offers this screencap:

"Now," O'Keefe continues, "his name is nowhere to be found." But as O'Keefe's screencap of that same page shows, the entire "Our Staff" sidebar is missing from the current version of that page, not just Creamer's name. In O'Keefe's "before" screencap, Creamer is prominently listed just below AUFC executive director Caroline Ciccone. Thanks to the good ol' Wayback Machine, we can visit previous cached versions of that same page. In the version of it from 11 Oct., only days before O'Keefe began releasing his videos, Creamer is still there alright but he's at the very bottom of the "our staff" list:

That's also how this appears in every iteration of the page cached by the Wayback Machine going all the way back to 9 July, 2015, when Creamer first appeared in the list. O'Keefe simply did a cut-and-paste, elevating Creamer from the bottom of the pile and slapping his name over that of Communications Director Jeremy Funk.

Creamer's role as an AUFC consultant is plainly stated on his profile at Democracy Partners: "He is General Consultant to Americans United for Change where he helped coordinate the campaigns to pass President Obama’s landmark jobs and economic recovery legislation."

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