Some Questions

One way I’m trying to make sense of TeaBuggerGate is to isolate the details that don’t make any sense. Such as:

Why was O’Keefe filming the apparent bugging?

I raised this question in my first post on this. One of Landrieu’s staffers reported–and O’Keefe admitted–that filmed the interaction between the Landrieu staffer and Flanagan and Basel.

WITNESS 1 further stated that when FLANAGAN and BASEL entered the office, O’KEEFE positioned his cellular phone in his hand so as to record FLANAGAN and BASEL.


O’KEEFE further admitted to recording FLANAGAN and BASEL inside of Senator Landrieu’s office.

Now, if the plumbers were actually bugging these phones, why would O’Keefe film them? Why would they let O’Keefe film them? From the sounds of things, O’Keefe did not video the interaction with the GSA employee (he presumably did not follow them out to the telephone closet). So why did O’Keefe film what he filmed, and only what he filmed? [See update below.]

Why wasn’t Dai’s possession of a listening device noted in the affidavit?

NOLA reports “an official close to the investigation” saying that one of the four–who must be Dai–was a few blocks away with a listening device.

An official close to the investigation said one of the four was arrested with a listening device in a car blocks from the senator’s offices. He spoke on condition of anonymity because that information was not included in official arresting documents.

A description of Dai’s role is limited to this in the affidavit.

Subsequent investigation determined that JAMES O’KEEFE and STAN DAI aided and abetted FLANAGAN and BASEL in the execution of the plan.


O’KEEFE and DAI have also admitted to federal agents that [sic] worked with FLANAGAN and BASEL in the planning, coordination, and preparation of the operation.

That’s it–no mention of the listening device, no description of where Dai was when everyone else was in Landrieu’s office. Nothing.

Of course, the FBI may have not described the listening device because they have not yet proven the connection between Dai’s listening device and whatever the plumbers were doing in Landrieu’s office. Or maybe because they wanted to do further investigation about potential further accomplices without revealing how much they had discovered from the plumbers.

Which all raises the question of why this “official close to the investigation” leaked this to NOLA’s local press (and not to many others). Was the official just providing a tip to a reporter with whom he had an existing relationship? Was he trying to make sure the plumbers didn’t get to tell the least damning story? Was the official trying to signal to other potential accomplices the extent of the investigation?

I’d suggest the motives of the “official close to the investigation” (which, after all, could include personnel in one of LA’s US Attorney offices) given the fact that Flanagan’s dad is acting US Attorney in W LA, and surely has close relationships with the local FBI, might be significant.

Why was Stan Dai in a car with a listening device, rather than at Pelican, which is just down Poydras Street from Landrieu’s office?

In addition to being the son of an Acting US Attorney and a former Congressional intern. Flanagan is also employed by the Pelican Institute, a LA-based wingnut welfare institution. In addition, O’Keefe was in town to give a talk for the Pelican Institute. So presumably, Pelican is at least in the background of this scheme.

But, as Justin Elliot notes, the Pelican Institue is just half a block from Landrieu’s office. So why did Dai go “blocks away” to a car rather than to Flanagan’s cubicle at the Pelican Institute?

The Simple Solution

Now, Republicans keep pointing to a TeaBug TeaBag protest of Landrieu’s office last month, in particular claims the TeaBuggers TeaBaggers made at that time that they couldn’t get through Landrieu’s phones.

Carrying his 2-year-old son, Tony Perkins, who is president of the Family Research Council, was turned away at the courthouse door by federal security officers who said Landrieu’s Baton Rouge office was closed this week.

“I had a personal letter written to her asking her to reconsider her stance,” Perkins said a few minutes later. “Why she and her staff are not working this week, it’s certainly irresponsible.”


“We were stunned to learn that so many phone calls to Sen. Landrieu have been unanswered and met with continuous busy signals,” Perkins said. “We asked them to call their senators. They could get through to Sen. Vitter, but not Sen. Landrieu.”

“Our lines have been jammed for weeks, and I apologize,” Landrieu said in interview after giving a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. “But no amount of jamming is going to keep me from supporting a good work for Louisiana and the nation.”

Dwight Hudson of Central said many of his fellow Baton Rouge Tea Party members had phoned Landrieu’s office unsuccessfully for weeks. “The point is they’re not getting their opinion heard. Maybe that’s why they’re out here today,” he said.

And on the surface, you could imagine that the TeaBuggers were in Landrieu’s office trying to document or (just as likely) pretend to document that Landrieu’s phones were jammed. Consider the following actions.

BASEL requested to be given access to a telephone in the office, and WITNESS 1 allowed him access to the main telephone at the reception desk. WITNESS 1 observed BASEL take the handset of the phone and manipulate it. BASEL also tried to call the phone with a cellular phone in his possession. He stated that he could not get through. Soon thereafter, FLANAGAN used a cellular phone in his possession to call the phone that BASEL held in his hand.

That is, you could imagine that O’Keefe was trying to capture video of Landrieu’s phones supposedly not getting through the phone. Of course, the video wouldn’t prove that. We’d have no proof, of course, that Basel had actually called the Landrieu number. We’d have no proof that Basel hadn’t simply turned off the ringer. We’d had no proof that what the video purported to show actually did show.

Of course, that’s perfectly consistent with O’Keefe’s known film-making tactics. As we know, the videos from ACORN were deliberately edited to make ACORN employees’ behavior appear worse than it actually was. In addition, the–as MadDog calls them–clown suits the plumbers were wearing would be consistent with O’Keefe’s past exaggerated characters (like his pimp).

So that might be the simplest explanation for what the TeaBaggers were doing–they were framing Landrieu, and got caught in doing so. Is that your final answer, TeaBaggers?

But there are some problems with that, starting with Stan Dai, in a car blocks away and not in the Pelican Institute, with a listening device. If all they were doing was framing Landrieu’s office to suggest they were deliberately not answer TeaBugger TeaBagger calls, why include a purported intelligence expert?

Then there’s the city. The TeaBuggers TeaBaggers complained that Landrieu’s Baton Rouge office was unresponsive (during Christmas week, I might add). So if they wanted to prove those phones weren’t working, why not go to Baton Rouge office (incidentally, in an entirely different US Attorney office than NOLA and than the district currently run by Flanagan’s dad).

And finally, why go to the GSA telecom closet–the move that got the plumbers into trouble (I guess GSA employees know a bit more about what telephone guys look like than Landrieu’s office staff)? As I suggested, it’s not clear that O’Keefe was even there filming. So why go to the closet as part of a scheme to film Landrieu’s phone system, if you weren’t filming. [See update below.]

Now, it’s still possible that’s what all this is about. But it doesn’t resolve any of a number of weird problems with the story as we know it.

Update: As a couple of you have pointed out, there is now someone identified as a federal law enforcement officer (who might or might not be the anonymous official above) leaking the detail that one of the plumbers had a camera on his hard hat.

A federal law enforcement official said Wednesday one of the hard hats was rigged with a tiny camera. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

So this would address two of my questions above: why go to the closet when you weren’t filming the closet. They were!



Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.