A federal court jury on Thursday awarded $120,000 in damages to Democratic consulting firms targeted by Project Veritas, a conservative group specializing in hidden-camera video stings, in connection with recordings made in 2016 by an operative who obtained an internship using a false name and story.
The jury of four men and five women concluded that the actions of the former operative, Allison Maass, breached a fiduciary duty to the consulting firms and amounted to fraudulent misrepresentation, according to the verdict form.
Recordings made by Maass and other operatives depicting what the group said were efforts to incite violence at rallies for then-President Donald Trump drew significant media attention in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign. A key figure behind the Democratic consultancies, Robert Creamer, said the firms lost organizing contracts after the release of the videos. He adamantly denied encouraging violence during so-called bracketing efforts around Trump events.
Project Veritas’ founder, James O’Keefe, refers to Maass and others who conduct the stings as journalists. Vowing an appeal, he said the jury verdict endangered hidden-camera work by a wide range of journalists.
“The jury effectively ruled investigative journalists owe a fiduciary duty to the subjects they are investigating and that investigative journalists may not deceive the subjects they are investigating,” said O’Keefe, who was named as a defendant in the suit and sat at the defense table during the trial. “Journalism is on trial, and Project Veritas will continue to fight for every journalist’s right to news gather, investigate, and expose wrongdoing — regardless of how powerful the investigated party may be. Project Veritas will not be intimidated.”
A Miami-based attorney who represented Project Veritas, Paul Calli, argued during the trial that the group’s activities were part of “the finest American tradition called muckraking.”
“The race is long. The fight continues because this case implicates fundamental First Amendment issues,” Calli said Thursday. “The folks on my left prefer to ignore that fact and will spike the ball and celebrate on Twitter because in this case the journalist isn’t someone they ‘like’ or agree with and instead exposed the soft white underbelly of their part. We will see what the finish line brings.”
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman, who oversaw the weeklong trial, could still impose punitive damages related to a wiretapping violation found by the jury. However, the jury ruled for Project Veritas on one claim that Maass illegally recorded a meeting she wasn’t party to.
Friedman is also still considering motions that Project Veritas and the other defendants made during the trial that the Democratic firms and Creamer failed to prove any legal violation by the group.