Judge Rejects Bid to Make Records Supporting Raid on Project Veritas Founder Public

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
December 8, 2021 Updated: December 8, 2021

A New York judge has rejected a bid to make public records that the government says show the importance of obtaining materials from Project Veritas in the FBI’s investigation into the alleged theft of a diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter.

FBI agents in November raided the home of Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and residences linked to people who formerly worked for the journalism nonprofit for evidence relating to property that the agents allege was stolen from Ashley Biden, the only daughter of President Biden, according to a redacted search warrant obtained by The Epoch Times.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had asked the court to unseal all records relating to the application for and execution of the search warrant for O’Keefe’s home, arguing that both the press and the public have a right to inspect the materials under the First Amendment and common law.

“A court’s decision to issue a search warrant is based on the application and supporting materials submitted by the government. Such materials are thus central to the exercise of Article III judicial power, and the value of public access to such materials cannot be understated,” Katie Townsend, an attorney for the group, said in a court filing.

Townsend argued that factors that would lead to the court continuing to seal the materials appeared to be lacking, and, even if there were some such factors in play, that the materials should be released with appropriate redactions, rather than entirely hidden from the public.

However, the government urged the court to not unseal the records, claiming that if disclosed, they “would reveal a substantial amount of non-public, sensitive information that would jeopardize an ongoing grand jury investigation in which no public charges have been filed.”

Magistrate Judge Sarah Cave ruled in favor of the government on Dec. 7.

Even though the public should have access to most court proceedings and documents, public interest in the case was outweighed by the government’s ongoing investigation, according to the ruling. Unsealing the records would create a risk that people named in them would move to conceal or destroy evidence, as well as the possibility of tampering with witnesses who have testified in the probe, Cave said.

She also ruled that unsealing the records would harm the privacy interests of Ashley Biden. The records are expected to be released if charges are brought in the probe.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press declined to comment.

“Everyone who believes in the First Amendment and a free press should be dismayed that the federal prosecutors continue to conceal facts about their investigation into a free press over President Biden’s 40-year-old daughter’s diary. A separate news outlet published the diary a year ago, and it remains on the internet today. That’s why it’s troubling that the government persuaded the magistrate that there were ‘privacy interests’ at issue—anyone with an internet connection can go and read the journal and what it says about Joseph Biden,” Paul Calli, a lawyer representing Project Veritas, told The Epoch Times in an email.

O’Keefe and Project Veritas have said they were given “abandoned” documents that they were told made up Ashley Biden’s diary, but they ultimately didn’t publish the papers because they couldn’t verify them.

They also said they turned over the materials to local law enforcement in Florida in late 2020.

National File, an online media outlet, has published documents that it says came from Ashley Biden’s diary. The government hasn’t taken any action thus far against National File.

Federal law protects journalists who receive stolen materials from prosecution.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres referred the motion to unseal the records to Cave.

Torres, an Obama appointee, rejected in November a similar bid from Project Veritas to unseal the records. She said Project Veritas cited no precedent for the idea that the U.S. Constitution gives a person who hasn’t been charged with a crime the right to review a search warrant affidavit during an investigation.

Torres hasn’t yet decided on whether to appoint a special master, a retired lawyer that sifts through materials and separates out privileged documents before passing on the rest to law enforcement. She ordered the government to stop reviewing the seized devices until she decides on the issue.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.