In "Part II" of his secretly recorded conversations with NPR fundraisers, conservative political activist James O'Keefe's accomplice presses for assurance that a $5 million gift to NPR from the fake group could be kept anonymous.
In the 44-minute recording, NPR Senior Director of Institutional Giving Betsy Liley speaks with a man posing as "Ibrahim Kasaam" of the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center Trust. They talk at length about the donation process. "Kasaam" presses the question of whether NPR could shield the group's donation from the government. Liley, who earlier this week was placed on administrative leave, says she thinks so but will have to check with NPR's legal counsel. That's among several mistakes she made during the call, NPR said this evening in a statement.
The facts that anonymous giving is common and legal, but that NPR reports all donations to the IRS and that NPR did not accept the fictitious Muslim charity's offer are not detailed in either:
— The blog where O'Keefe has posted the recording of that conversation.
— Or the report about it at The Daily Caller, which this week has been the outlet where O'Keefe's revelations have been broken.
And NPR says Liley, who is now on administrative leave, made several errors during the conversation. NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm has sent this statement to NPR staff and stations:
"The statement made by Betsy Liley in the audiotapes released today regarding the possibility of making an anonymous gift that would remain invisible to tax authorities is factually inaccurate and not reflective of NPR's gift practices.
"All donations — anonymous and named — are fully reported to the IRS. NPR complies with all financial, tax and disclosure regulations.
"Through unequivocal words and actions, NPR has renounced and condemned the secretly recorded statements of Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley. Mr. Schiller is no longer with NPR and Ms. Liley has been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation of the matter.
"No stronger statement of disavowal and disapproval is possible. NPR will not be deterred from its news mission and will ultimately be judged by the millions and millions of listeners and readers who have come to rely on us every day."
This follows the Tuesday release of a videotape that O'Keefe's representatives secretly made. In it, Ron Schiller (who at the time was NPR's chief fundraiser) is heard slamming conservatives and musing that NPR might be better off without any federal funding (a position that directly contradicts the organization's official view).
And it follows Wednesday's ousting of NPR CEO and President Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron), in the wake of the video controversy and last year's mishandled dismissal of news analyst Juan Williams.
O'Keefe says the lunch was videotaped on Feb. 22. The phone recording of Liley, his site says, was made on Feb. 28.
We'll keep following this story.
Update at 6:55 p.m. ET. NPR just released copies of correspondence between NPR and the fictitious Muslim organization. Included in that correspondence is a message from Vivian Schiller about "Kasaam." She wrote on March 3 that in a conversation he "repeated again that they want to deliver the check. I said that's very generous but we really need to sort out these issues first."
The issues, according to her note, included proof from the group that it was a 501(c)3 charitable organization. And she says she told him that NPR would have to report the donation and the charity's name to the IRS.
Here are those notes. Click "fullscreen" to make them more readable:
Rehm has also sent another message to NPR staff and stations, in which she says that "NPR is committed to financial transparency and posts our audited financial statements as well as IRS 990s on our website [here].
"Incoming gifts must go through legal vetting by our General Counsel's office. Our General Counsel asked repeatedly and in writing for the information necessary for the proposed gift to be evaluated. 'MEAC' failed to produce that information.
"Because of the failure to provide the information required, NPR rejected the gift."
Update at 6:45 p.m. ET. In an open letter to "listeners and supporters," 23 of NPR's best-known journalists say:
"We, and our colleagues at NPR News, strive every day to bring you the highest quality news programs possible. So, like you, we were appalled by the offensive comments made recently by NPR's now former Senior Vice President for Development [Ron Schiller]. His words violated the basic principles by which we live and work: accuracy and open-mindedness, fairness and respect.
"Those comments have done real damage to NPR. But we're confident that the culture of professionalism we have built, and the journalistic values we have upheld for the past four decades, will prevail. We are determined to continue bringing you the daily journalism that you've come to expect and rely upon: fair, fact-based, in-depth reporting from at home and around the world.
"With your support we have no doubt NPR will come out of this difficult period stronger than ever."