The notorious conservative activist James O’Keefe is at it again. This week, O’Keefe — known for undercover videos aimed at embarrassing liberals and Democrats — went after Sen. Claire McCaskill, a centrist Democrat running for re-election in Missouri. Through his nonprofit Project Veritas Action, O’Keefe released a video showing McCaskill campaign staffers making comments about their belief that she could be more liberal than some might imagine.
Observers noted after the release that the most purportedly salacious aspect of the film — a suggestion that McCaskill carefully conceals her support for gun control — is hardly true: McCaskill’s support for various gun control policy is no secret. She voted for the last major gun control legislation in the Senate in 2013 and has openly campaigned for what she calls “common-sense gun safety” measures that include expanded background checks for those seeking to purchase firearms.
The attack on McCaskill, however, was only the latest in O’Keefe’s signature style — often selectively edited undercover videos featuring contrived and less-than-truthful attacks against liberals and Democrats — and it’s not going to be his last foray into the 2018 midterm elections.
At a gathering attended by Republican politicians and major religious right donors in North Carolina late last month, O’Keefe promised more undercover tapes on Democratic Senate candidates.
“We have videotapes of U.S. senators’ staffers, and we’re going to release them starting next week up until the election.”
“I’m going to tell you, in the coming weeks, my organization, Project Veritas Action, has spent the last year undercover inside the office,” O’Keefe said, speaking at the Council for National Policy gathering in Charlotte. “And all legally filmed, all legally obtained, most of it was filmed outside of federal buildings. But we have hidden cam videotapes of U.S. senators and their staffers, and we’re going to release them starting next week up until the election.”
Prodded by Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council president who had introduced him at the podium, O’Keefe noted that he would begin by releasing a video on the Missouri Senate race, followed by Arizona, then Florida and “a lot of the swing states.”
Now the McCaskill video is out. The other races O’Keefe mentioned constitute other battleground elections that will likely determine control of the Senate next year. In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema faces Republican Rep. Martha McSally for the Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. And in Florida, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson faces a challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
“They’re on tape saying, ‘We have to lie to get elected,'” boasted O’Keefe. “I think it’s going to get people fired.”
The Council for National Policy confab is a secretive gathering of evangelical leaders, politicians, and conservative donors. The Intercept covered the event, mostly from the hotel lobby, where a number of participants shared information from the conference.
The event featured presentations by United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her resignation from the Trump administration a few days after her speech at the event, as well as Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Ginni Thomas, the spouse of Justice Clarence Thomas.
O’Keefe, for his part, specializes in sending people to infiltrate left-wing groups, encouraging typically low-level staff or volunteers to say something embarrassing or offensive.
In some cases, the O’Keefe videos have misfired. Last year, a woman working with O’Keefe’s nonprofit approached the Washington Post to plant a false story about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. But the paper quickly caught onto the deception and tracked the woman back to Project Veritas, an affiliation she attempted to conceal. In another botched sting, O’Keefe and his associates left a voicemail for George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, but forgot to hang up, leaving a recording of their plot to try to manipulate the foundation.
The McCaskill video follows the now-familiar template. In one clip, a staffer is heard saying that he wishes that former President Barack Obama would campaign for McCaskill, but worries that it would send the wrong message to voters. In another segment, a campaign staff member hopes that McCaskill will embrace impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Partisan, right-wing media outlets championed the video with glee. Rush Limbaugh crooned that the tape “exposed the blatant hypocrisy” of McCaskill. The American Thinker declared that it exposes the “McCaskill hidden agenda.”
Not every journalist was convinced of the importance of the video’s revelations. Reporter Danny Wicentowski, of St. Louis’s alt-weekly, Riverfront Times, panned the release as “pretty boring by O’Keefe’s standards, which tend to rely more on shock value than new information.”
The video, though, may have an impact on the race: It was quickly embraced by Republican Josh Hawley, McCaskill’s challenger, and also the state attorney general, whose campaign claimed the video unveiled McCaskill’s “REAL views.”