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NY Times gets green light to publish Veritas attorney memos

The document dispute stems from, but is ultimately unrelated to, an FBI raid on the conservative group known for heavily editing footage of sting operations targeting the likes of Planned Parenthood.

MANHATTAN (CN) — The door is open for The New York Times to publish documents related to a defamation lawsuit that Project Veritas filed against the newspaper. 

Four judges in a New York appellate court on Wednesday lifted a gag order concerning attorney memos published in Times articles after it was sued by Project Veritas. Courthouse News joined several prominent media organizations in challenging the underlying order.

Founded by the political provocateur James O'Keefe, Project Veritas is known for ginning up conservative audiences with secretly filmed, and heavily edited, footage from inside the offices of mainstream media and progressive groups.

Project Veritas is litigating over Times coverage that it claims defamed it with an incorrect report on one such video accusing Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar of voter fraud. Two Times reporters in addition to the paper itself are named as defendants.

Unrelated to that lawsuit, the Times reported in November 2021 that FBI agents had executed searches in New York City and Westchester County targeting Project Veritas associates, investigating whether the organization had stolen the diary of President Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden. 

That news coverage included the documents in dispute: memos prepared by a lawyer for Project Veritas describing legal strategies that would not run afoul of federal law. 

Attorneys for Project Veritas say the Times’ publication of these memos intruded on attorney-client privilege and was done in an attempt to embarrass O’Keefe’s organization. The memos were written before the 2020 defamation suit. 

In the intervening months, a Westchester judge ordered the paper to turn over or destroy the records, but an appellate panel allowed the Times to hold onto the records but not to make them public. 

The latest decision allowing the Times to publish the excerpts is dated February 9 but was made public on Thursday. 

In addition to taking issue with the memo publication, O’Keefe has said the timing of The Times’ reporting on the FBI raids was suspicious. 

“Within an hour of one of our reporters’ homes being secretly raided by the FBI, the New York Times, who we are currently suing for defamation, contacted the Project Veritas reporter to ask for comment,” O’Keefe said. “We do not know how the New York Times was aware of the execution of a search warrant at our reporter’s home, or the subject matter of the search warrant, as a [grand] jury investigation is secret.”

The Veritas founder and former Breitbart columnist claims a “tipster” provided the journal after moving into a place where Ashley Biden had been staying. 

“We took steps to corroborate the authenticity of the diary. At the end of the day, we made the ethical decision that because, in part, we could not determine if the diary was real, if the diary in fact belonged to Ashley Biden, or if the contents of the diary occurred, we could not publish the diary and any part thereof,” O’Keefe said.

Project Veritas’ previous targets include The Washington Post, CNN and Planned Parenthood. 

A Times spokesperson said her team is pleased with the decision and looks forward to explaining its position in the appeal. 

“The use of prior restraint to prohibit newsgathering and block the publication of newsworthy journalism is unconstitutional,” Danielle Rhoades Ha said in a statement. “No libel plaintiffs should be permitted to use their litigation as a tool to silence press coverage about them.”

Attorneys for Project Veritas did not return a request for comment. 

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