Project Veritas loses jury verdict to Democratic consulting firm

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Political activist James O’Keefe, currently executive director of Project Veritas, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) annual meeting at National Harbor near Washington, U.S., March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo/File Photo

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Sept 23 (Reuters) – A federal jury has found Project Veritas, a conservative group often accused of using deceptive tactics, of violating wiretapping laws and of misrepresenting itself in an undercover effort to targeting Democratic political consultants.

Jurors in Washington on Thursday awarded $120,000 to a member of Democracy Partners, co-founded by self-described progressive strategist Robert Creamer.

Democracy Partners claimed it had been infiltrated by a Project Veritas employee who lied about her name and background to get an internship during the 2016 presidential campaign, and secretly recorded conversations while she worked there.

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The firm and Creamer said Project Veritas used “heavily edited” footage in videos that falsely suggested they conspired to incite violence at then-Republican candidate Donald Trump’s rallies and planned to promote voter fraud.

According to the complaint, the spying cost the plaintiffs, who supported Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, more than $500,000 in contracts.

Project Veritas said it did nothing wrong and will appeal.

The Mamaroneck, New York-based group has long characterized its work as journalism and said the ruling threatens investigative journalists’ use of hidden cameras.

“Project Veritas will continue to fight for every journalist’s right to newsgathering, investigation and disclosure of wrongdoing — no matter how powerful the party under investigation may be,” CEO James O’Keefe said in a statement.

Democracy Partners said in a statement that it hoped the sentence would “help deter Mr. O’Keefe and others from conducting this type of political spying operation – and releasing selectively edited, misleading videos.”

Media outlets including the New York Times, which Project Veritas is suing for defamation, and Politico previously reported the verdict.

The $120,000 award was on a fraudulently misleading claim.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, who oversaw the trial, will assess damages based on the jury’s separate finding that the agent, Allison Maass, intended to breach a fiduciary duty, according to the verdict form.

Friedman has not yet ruled on the defendants’ arguments that they should prevail as a matter of law.

“This case implicates fundamental First Amendment issues. The people to my left prefer to ignore that fact,” the defendants’ attorney, Paul Calli, said in a statement. “We will see what the finish line brings.”

The case is Democracy Partners LLC et al. v. Project Veritas Action Fund et al., US District Court, District of Columbia, No. 17-01047.

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Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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