Men Accused Of Tampering With Senator's Phone
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
James O'Keefe is a conservative activist best known for his undercover video expose on the community organizing group ACORN. This week, he allegedly tried another less successful operation. O'Keefe showed up at Democratic Mary Landrieu's office in New Orleans on Monday. He was with men wearing hard hats, tool belts and fluorescent vests. Now, four men are accused of trying to tamper with Landrieu's phones. They're scheduled to be in court today.
We reached Eileen Fleming, of member station WWNO in New Orleans.
EILEEN FLEMING: Good morning, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Set the scene for us. How did these guys get caught?
FLEMING: Well, we have a few details - not much. But federal prosecutors say that on Monday, O'Keefe was in Landrieu's office saying he was waiting for someone. Then two men showed up dressed as repairmen in hard hats, saying they had to fix the office phones. O'Keefe, according to the senator's staff, then recorded them, quote, according to the court documents, "manipulating a handset."
They were referred to the general services administration office on another floor and they were asked for identification, but the men said they didn't have any and left. They were arrested outside the federal building and a fourth suspect was arrested for allegedly helping out with the plan, but exactly what the plan was isn't clear.
SHAPIRO: So if they're accused of entering a federal building with the intention of committing a felony, is the felony tapping phones?
FLEMING: Well, they didn't say that in the affidavit, and they didn't say that in the charges. They're not charged with wire tapping, which is a much more serious offense, but in the affidavit they are charged with manipulating - or accused by a witness, of manipulating the handset of a telephone and posing as telephone repairmen. But they are not charged with wiretapping.
SHAPIRO: So reading between the lines, if we're trying to figure out what this scheme was, a plan to wiretap sounds plausible?
SHAPIRO: Why would Senator Landrieu be a target of conservative activists?
FLEMING: Well, she cast a key vote on the health care reform bill, and some people have dubbed it the Louisiana Purchase. She's not a favorite of the conservatives.
SHAPIRO: You're saying some people called it the Louisiana Purchase, because Louisiana got some financial benefits in the health bill?
FLEMING: Yes, more than $300 million.
SHAPIRO: Now, many people have heard of O'Keefe. He and a woman posed as a pimp and a prostitute and they videotaped ACORN employees giving tax advice on smuggling underage sex workers into the country. But tell us about the other three defendants, the men he's alleged to have cooperated with on this scheme.
FLEMING: Well, interesting, another defendant in this case is 24-year-old Robert Flannigan, whose father is the acting U.S. attorney for western Louisiana. And he was released earlier in the day than the other three.
We think they knew each other through their conservative beliefs, because O'Keefe spoke in New Orleans last week to a Libertarian group called the Pelican Institute for Public Policy.
And the Pelican Institute is located about a block away from the federal building, and that's where Mary Landrieu's office was. And it's believed that Flannigan works for the group, and Flannigan was one of the two who dressed as a repairman.
SHAPIRO: Have the men said anything?
FLEMING: Only a quick word as O'Keefe jumped into the taxi as he got out of jail. He was surrounded by reporters, but did not make any comments about the case. And as he got into the car, he just said veritas, which is Latin for truth - and then quickly adding, the truth shall set me free.
SHAPIRO: And I understand that ACORN expressed a bit of Schadenfreude when they heard news of this. Their Twitter feed said, couldn't have happened to a more deserving soul.
FLEMING: Yes. And there's no love lost, of course, between ACORN and O'Keefe.
SHAPIRO: Thanks very much.
FLEMING: You're welcome. You're most welcome.
SHAPIRO: We've been speaking with Eileen Fleming of member station WWNO in New Orleans.
(Soundbite of music)
This is NPR News.