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James O’Keefe’s Targets Sue Undercover Filmmaker for $1 Million

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Updated: | Originally published: ;

The Democratic political consultants whose firm was infiltrated last summer by conservative provocateurs is filing a $1 million federal lawsuit against those spies, their bosses and the organizations that supported the plan.

Democracy Partners, a mainstay of progressive circles and a vendor for the Democratic National Committee, and its owner on Thursday filed a 27-page complaint in the District of Columbia’s District Court, citing last year’s gotcha operation, which drew widespread attention among conservative activists. The complaint says the activists conspired with each other, lied to the consulting firm to secure a job for one of the activists, trespassed in private offices, acquired and published confidential information and ran afoul of anti-wiretapping laws.

In their telling, Project Veritas, Project Veritas Action Fund and its leader James O’Keefe obtained evidence of shady political activities undertaken to help Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. O’Keefe, who identifies himself as a “guerilla journalist,” published online secretly recorded videos and stolen documents as supporting evidence. Among his insinuations and allegations: Clinton friends hired mentally ill individuals to protest Donald Trump, helped immigrants in the country illegally to vote; and groups allied with Clinton accepted contributions from foreign sources.

Veritas’ claims last fall did not hold up to scrutiny and the videos were more of a footnote during a fall campaign that had late revelations from the FBI about Clinton’s email practices—a development the candidate has blamed on her loss. Even so, the Veritas videos have been viewed more than 13 million times on YouTube alone, and are often cited as proof of the media’s liberal bent because few mainstream outlets amplified O’Keefe’s claims.

In an email, O’Keefe signaled he was ready to fight: “Robert Creamer believes that by suing us, he can intimidate us. I will not be silenced—only over my dead body!”

O’Keefe also promised more sting operations. “We will be deploying a new batch of freshly trained journalists next week to shine additional light on the cockroaches of the corrupt D.C. establishment,” O’Keefe wrote.

As described in the court filing, last year’s caper in Washington was one Veritas took time to plan. In the documents, Democracy Partners says Daniel Sandini introduced himself in June to consultant Robert Creamer as “Charles Roth,” a potential donor to groups Creamer advised.

As part of the conversations, Roth suggested Creamer should consider someone he said was his niece for gigs. That young woman, introduced as “Angela Brandt” and later identified as Allison Maass, volunteered with a progressive group during the Republican National Committee’s convention in Cleveland and was later hired for an internship with Creamer’s Democracy Partners.

(Maass previously infiltrated the campaign offices of Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold in similar sting-style operations that Veritas promoted.)

The complaint says Maass secretly recorded conversations between Democracy Partners’ officials and clients, and took documents from the offices without permission. Those tapes and documents later were featured in videos narrated by O’Keefe.

The lawsuit also alleges Maass provided to Creamer false details of her identity that he passed along to the U.S. Secret Service ahead of a scheduled meeting at the White House. The complaint says Maass was unwell and could not attend the White House meeting; it’s likely the Secret Service would have outted her false identity at the gates.

“Basically O’Keefe and Maass were modern day Watergate burglars,” Democracy Partners attorney Joe Sandler said in a statement. “They used fraud to get Maass a position as an intern at Democracy Partners so they could steal documents and secretly videotape conversations.”

None of this behavior is new to those who are familiar with O’Keefe’s work. In 2009, Veritas released a series of videos that selectively edited footage about community organizing group ACORN; the videos were later shown to be misleading, but the outrage effectively ended ACORN. The group sued O’Keefe for not adhering to laws requiring both sides of a conversation to consent to be recorded. O’Keefe settled the case for $100,000.

Separately, O’Keefe and three colleagues were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony. The FBI said some in the group posed as telephone workers in the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu and tried to access the closet where the phone equipment was stored. O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to three years probation.

O’Keefe’s other targets have including NPR, Planned Parenthood and the New Jersey teachers’ union.

Thursday’s lawsuit, of course, will not deter O’Keefe. In response to the lawsuit, the rogue filmmaker said he “will not be intimidated” and suggested liberal causes were working to silence him. “We will find out who is funding this lawsuit,” he said. “We will never stop exposing the truth. We will not back down.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the charges O’Keefe faced in Louisiana. He was charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony, not with plotting to wiretap Sen. Mary Landrieu’s phones.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com