ACORN Saga Continues in “Louisiana Watergate”

By Michelle Chen Jan 26, 2010

How you like me now?

You knew it wouldn’t be long before we heard again from the ACORN scandal-mongers. This time, rather than demonizing an activist group, the goons are reportedly going straight for the jugular by invading a Democratic senator’s office.

James O’Keefe made waves last year as a right-wing renegade, by videotaping his undercover "sting" operation against ACORN, supposedly recording misconduct as he posed as a (rather unconvincingly costumed) financial-advice seeking pimp. That "scandal" led to another familiar flood of corruption allegations, a crude attempt by members of Congress to cut off funding for the group, and ultimately, a vindication through a December court ruling that struck down the move.

Now, O’Keefe, who was hailed as a hero by the right, is the one embroiled in scandal.The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:

Alleging a plot to tamper with phones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O’Keefe, 25, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group’s credibility.

Also arrested were Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. All four men were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.

Ah, here we go again. It’s unclear how deep the malicious intent runs. But the bizarre connections in this story could fuel a conspiracy theory that rivals anything right-wing talk radio could hurl at ACORN. The son of the acting Louisiana Attorney General and his sidekick try to enter a Democratic Senator’s office "dressed as telephone company employees, wearing jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool belts and hard hats." Looking fabulous, the team meets up with O’Keefe, who later admits to filming the event on his cell phone. They jigger suspiciously with Sen. Landrieu’s phone system and are later nabbed by U.S. Marshals. Hmm. O’Keefe, meanwhile, has been targeted in a lawsuit for breaking state wiretap laws with his pimp scheme last year. Stan Dai, according to his biography as a "College Leader" on a conservative foundation’s website, has served as "an Undergraduate Fellow on Terrorism of the Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies" and assisted with a slew of political campaigns and conservative campus groups. Flanagan’s attorney said he thinks his client is working for the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a right-wing think tank whose "mission is to advance sound policies based on the principles of free enterprise, individual liberty, and limited government." Landrieu’s office has been reticent as the investigation is still ongoing. ACORN did comment, noting that the trespassing incident seemed to confirm what they already knew:

ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan said the arrest calls O’Keefe’s credibility into question, and used the opportunity to point out that he "edited (ACORN videos) to make things look as bad as possible." He said, for instance, that O’Keefe actually wore a normal dress shirt when he was in the ACORN offices, but spliced in shots of him dressed as a pimp in the final videos. But he also acknowledged that O’Keefe’s undercover ACORN footage showed truly improper conduct by ACORN staff. "ACORN’s leadership and grassroots leaders have taken a whole series of steps, including commissioning an independent report that shows actually there wasn’t illegal conduct by any of the ACORN employees involved, although we fired people involved for improper conduct," Whelan said.

Despite admitting that his client may be working with the Pelican Institute, Flanagan’s lawyer told the Times-Picayune, "I think it was poor judgment. I don’t think there was any intent or motive to commit a crime." Right. Now we get to see if Congress will allow the alleged perpetrators more benefit of the doubt than it gave to ACORN–whose only real crime in the end was being an unapologetic advocate for poor people of color.