Conservative Filmmaker Admits to Role in Phone Caper at Senator Office

February 1st, 2010

One of four men charged with going into a U.S. senator’s office and tampering with the phones said in a statement he was trying to “investigate” whether the senator was avoiding calls from constituents about health care.

James O’Keefe, a right-leaning filmmaker, released his statement on Biggovernment.com while he and three other men await court proceedings for federal charges related to the incident. O’Keefe has been accused of shooting pictures and video of two men, dressed as phone repair men, entering Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Louisiana office to ask about problems with the phone system, according to a Washington Post report.

O’Keefe said in his statement that he learned Louisiana citizens looking to urge Sen. Landrieu from voting in favor of a national healthcare bill had trouble getting through on her office’s phones. O’Keefe said the senator responded to the claim by saying phones lines had been jammed for weeks.

“On reflection, I could have used a different approach to this investigation, particularly given the sensitivities that people understandably have about security in a federal building,” O’Keefe said in his statement. “The sole intent of our investigation was to determine whether or not Senator Landrieu was purposely trying to avoid constituents who were calling to register their views to her as their Senator.”

O’Keefe, who earned attention last year for filming hidden-camera interviews with the community-organizing group ACORN to expose alleged corruption, and three other men are charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with intent to commit a felony.

Penalties for conviction can include up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan were described as entering Landrieu’s office disguised as telephone repair men, according to the Washington Post. Stan Dai is charged with assisting in the act, but to what extent hasn’t been reported.

Flanagan’s attorney J. Garrison Jordan was recently quoted in the New York Times describing the incident as a “prank.”

“Mr. O’Keefe has a history of trying to embarrass agencies or political entities on camera,” Attorney Jordan told the New York Times. “I think it was just an ill-designed stunt with no intent to commit a crime.”

O’Keefe also claims in his statement that the U.S. government is holding tape recordings made of the entire fiasco that will show allegations against him and the three other men among news reports are false.

The Associated Press and MSNBC reported incorrectly that he broke into the office and was under a gag order, while the Washington Post and other outlets mistakenly reported the act was an attempt to bug phones within Landrieu’s office.