Project Veritas, the shadowy yet wildly incompetent far-right group that stages sting operations to film and release hoax exposés on liberals, enlisted a British spy to help run an operation intended to discredit the FBI and suspected enemies within Donald Trump’s administration, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
The Ouroboros of an operation, which involved efforts to smear Trump’s own advisers, reportedly involved a $10,000 a month base of operations in a Georgetown residence, female operatives recruited to date FBI staffers, and former British spy Richard Seddon—who Project Veritas affiliate and mercenary contractor Erik Prince previously enlisted to help the group infiltrate labor unions and political campaigns. The Times reported that Project Veritas operatives launched surveillance of FBI employees in the hopes of recording something that could be twisted into evidence of an FBI conspiracy to dethrone Trump. Some of its members also planned a sting operation to send a woman with a hidden camera to meet with then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster with an identical objective, though the Times noted it they couldn’t verify Project Veritas actually directed it.
The Times report also doesn’t assert that Trump or the White House was actually aware of the effort, though one of the amateur agents claimed they had access to inside information:
Whether any of Mr. Trump’s White House advisers had direct knowledge of the campaign is unclear, but one of the participants in the operation against Mr. McMaster, Barbara Ledeen, said she was brought on by someone “with access to McMaster’s calendar.”
At the time, Ms. Ledeen was a staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then led by Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.
Project Veritas can really only point to one major slimy success in its past—it managed to force the dissolution of advocacy group ACORN with selectively edited and manipulated footage of Veritas founder James O’Keefe pressing low-level ACORN employees for advice on how to run a prostitution ring. The Government Accountability Office later cleared ACORN of mishandling any federal funds. Other than that, the group’s efforts have largely amounted to political stunts of the type that might conveniently convince deep-pocketed but not particularly discerning Republican donors that Project Veritas is a serious investigative operation.
Some of the more infamous Project Veritas grifts have included a failed effort to enter the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu while disguised as telecom repairmen that ended with O’Keefe convicted on a misdemeanor charge, mostly fruitless plots to catfish Twitter employees and a failed effort to trick Washington Post reporters into discrediting themselves by publishing obviously false accusations against now-former GOP Senator Roy Moore (so as to distract from very real and well-evidenced accounts of Moore sexually abusing minors).
The group also launched various failed efforts to prove Donald Trump actually won the 2020 elections and Joe Biden’s victory was fraudulent, such as backing a U.S. Postal Service “whistleblower” who later admitted to USPS investigators his claims the USPS was involved in vote by mail fraud were the product of his imagination. Many of Project Veritas’s so-called sources have quickly cashed in by launching lucrative fundraisers on GoFundMe, usually claiming they need tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend themselves against liberal backlash.
The scheme against McMaster, the Times wrote, came after a BuzzFeed article quoted him as calling Trump an “idiot” no smarter than a “kindergartener” at a 2017 dinner also attended by Oracle CEO Safra A. Catz. Catz complained to the White House, which could not substantiate her account of the remarks. Veritas operatives and other Trump loyalists came up with a plan to prove McMaster’s disloyalty by having a woman with a camera loosen the national security adviser, who is married, up with booze. The Times reported:
Soon after the BuzzFeed article, however, the scheme developed to try to entrap Mr. McMaster: Recruit a woman to stake out the same restaurant, Tosca, with a hidden camera. According to the plan, whenever Mr. McMaster returned by himself, the woman would strike up a conversation with him and, over drinks, try to get him to make comments that could be used to either force him to resign or get him fired.
McMaster was already unpopular in the Trump world, and the president was regularly railing against phantom “deep state” operatives in the CIA, FBI, and State Department seeking to undermine him. According to the Times, Ledeen, the Senate Judiciary employee, said she was asked to help with the plan by “someone she trusted” (but conveniently could not remember the name of) and passed on information to a man who may have been a Veritas operative using a false name. The paper wrote that interviews and documents show Seddon, the former British spy, offered Veritas operative Tarah Price $10,000 to carry out the sting. Project Veritas never got a chance to pull it off, as McMaster resigned anyways in March 2018.
Seddon was also involved in Project Veritas training efforts at a Wyoming ranch owned by Prince, the mercenary contractor who founded Academi (formerly Blackwater USA). The Times wrote:
After Mr. Seddon joined Project Veritas, he set out to professionalize what was once a small operation with a limited budget. He hired former soldiers, a former F.B.I. agent and a British former commando... One role-playing exercise involved a trainee being interrogated by a law enforcement officer and having to “defend their cover” and “avoid exciting” the officer.
Another exercise instructs trainees in how to target a person in an elevator. The students were encouraged to think of their “targets as a possible future access agent, potential donor, support/facilities agent.”
“The student must create and maintain a fictional cover,” one document read.
The effort to entrap FBI employees began around the time McMaster resigned, according to the Times, and was led by Seddon at a Georgetown house close to the stairway from The Exorcist. Women living at the house created fake dating profiles and referred to each other with code names like “Brazil” and “Tiger”; one was reportedly a former contestant on Survivor. This operation managed to dig up a handful of government employees who expressed their opposition to Trump on hidden cameras, but by that point, Project Veritas had no pull outside of diehard Republican circles and conspiracy theorists, meaning its efforts came to virtually nothing of importance. None of those government employees worked for the FBI, but various other agencies.
Seddon apparently had reached the limits of his patience with Project Veritas and quit by the time the first video was released, with three former Veritas telling the Times (in the paper’s words) the former spy was “chafing at what he viewed as Mr. O’Keefe’s desire to produce quick media content rather than to run long-term infiltration operations.”
O’Keefe told the Times their article was a “smear piece” that was related to a lawsuit over the paper’s “continued pattern of defamation of Project Veritas.” Neither McMaster, Prince, or Seddon gave statements to the Times. Ledeen told the paper she was merely a messenger and “am not part of a plot.”