WASHINGTON (Circa) — The Justice Department, Department of State and Government Accountability Office are looking into three employees affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) after they were featured in a secretly recorded sting video. The video purports to show the employees may have committed ethics violations or used government resources to engage in political activities.
The video is part of a series, "Deep State Unmasked," by Project Veritas, an activist group led by James O'Keefe that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations to embarrass its targets or get them fired. The videos are heavily edited and lack context.
In the series, O'Keefe sent his colleagues to expose a handful of government employees who are involved with the Democratic Socialists of America. An auditor at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a State Department agency analyst and a former chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid each discussed efforts to "resist" Trump administration policies from within executive agencies.
Three of those employees are now under review, according to statements from GAO and the Justice and State Departments. Project Veritas filed legal complaints with the agencies alleging their employees were "taking organized action to thwart administration policies" and may have violated federal laws prohibiting the use of government time and resources for political activities.
"This is the sort of personification, putting a face to the name of this deep state is," O'Keefe told Sinclair Broadcast Group in an interview Wednesday.
O'Keefe claims the undercover recordings provide evidence of a "cabal of federal employees" acting to undermine President Donald Trump's agenda and violate federal laws. "It shows other people resisting, gloating about how they can't get fired, talking about the laws that they're breaking. They're quite brazen about it, quite arrogant."
Dr. Raymond Batvinis is a former FBI counterintelligence official who spent 25 years working in the federal government. He said he does not believe the type of conspiracy O'Keefe claims to expose exists, in part, because it is not feasible.
"As a purely practical matter, I just don't see how it could happen, particularly at the mid-level of government employees," Batvinis noted.
The federal government employs more than 2 million full-time workers across the country and across agencies. Each agency has its own culture and is led by political appointees."There's no one individual or tiny cabal or clique of people who are manipulating these things," Batvinis stressed.
Jared Holt, a research associate at Right Wing Watch, said O'Keefe's focus on a government conspiracy run by Democratic Socialists of America was "laughable."
"It does not prove a 'deep state' and I think the idea that the DSA has any sort of meaningful institutional power in the federal government is entirely laughable that this moment in history," he said.
THE AGENCIES AND ALLEGED 'CONSPIRATORS'
In one video, an auditor with the Government Accountability Office, Natarajan Subramanian, admitted to undermining work at the agency and "slow-balling" it "to the degree that it's ineffective."
Subramanian, a member of DSA, also suggested he worked to advance DSA's political agenda while he was on the clock and intentionally misrepresented his involvement in the organization on a government disclosure form.
On Thursday, the GAO announced it was investigating the issues raised in the video and had communicated with the GAO Inspector General.
GAO released the following statement on the Project Veritas video: We are aware of the video and investigating the serious issues it raises, and we have also communicated with the GAO Inspector General.— U.S. GAO (@USGAO) September 20, 2018
GAO's public affairs director, Chuck Young issued a statement that Subramanian "has been removed from any ongoing GAO work and cut off from access to GAO equipment." He said the agency "will also examine his work product as part of our investigation."
In another video, Allison Hrabar, a paralegal in the Justice Department's antitrust division, was recorded discussing her involvement with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), including how she obtained the home addresses of a Washington lobbyist the group wanted to protest.
Project Veritas described Hrabar as one of the leaders of the D.C. Democratic Socialists of America. In June, Hrabar was involved in protesting Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen while she was dining at a Mexican restaurant. Hrabar also took part in an April DSA protest at the Capitol Hill home of lobbyist Jeremy Wilely.
In one video, Hrabar explains to an undercover Project Veritas reporter that she found Wilely's home by running his license plates. "We cannot do it officially," Hrabar said. In a separate clip, she said she used"public information and research" to find the address.
Another DSA member said Hrabar relied on software, like Lexis Nexis, an expensive subscriber database often used by universities, researchers and the government. The video implied Hrabar may have used her government account to find Wilely. That would likely violate the Hatch Act, a law prohibiting the use of government time or resources to engage in political activity.
"What’s kind of lucky is at the DOJ, we can’t really get fired," Hrabar told a Project Veritas reporter.
A Justice Department spokesperson called the allegations "deeply concerning." Justice Department policy "prohibits misuse of government resources to advance personal interests. We are looking into this immediately and have referred this matter to the Inspector General as well," the spokesperson said.
Another video featured Stuart Karaffa, a State Department analyst with the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations and according to Project Veritas, a "ranking member" of the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America.
Karaffa admits to drafting emails for DSA while he is at work. He acknowledged he could get in trouble if caught, but told the undercover reporter, "I have nothing to lose. It's impossible to fire federal employees."
The State Department confirmed Karaffa's employment with the agency and said it is reviewing the information in the video. "We take seriously any allegation of a violation of the Hatch Act and financial disclosure rules and are closely reviewing this matter," a spokesperson said.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News, "Rest assured we’re aware of it and we’re taking a looking at it."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responds to @Project_Veritas investigation tonight on Ingraham— James O'Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) September 20, 2018
POMPEO: “But rest assured we're aware of it and we're taking a looking at it…
...If this is a mission on which you can't sign up for it's time to go do something else with your time.” pic.twitter.com/OUt0jKy5Ol
O'Keefe has argued his latest "undercover journalism" project is aimed at holding individuals accountable, promoting government transparency and exposing how the "deep state" operates.
The "Deep State Unmasked" series has been widely circulated, covered in the national media and the three videos have more than one million views on YouTube, with more coming soon.
The attention given to the reporting, which has been promoted by some news outlets "uncritically," virtually guaranteed action from the Justice Department and other agencies, Holt said.
"I expected a response from DOJ and perhaps other agencies, that they would, as a result, be looking into whether these claims have any sort of authenticity," he told Circa.
Holt described O'Keefe's agenda in a recent article, saying "Project Veritas is trying to get those employees fired in order to vindicate the President Trump’s Infowars-esque claims that there is a shadow government out to get him."
O'Keefe anticipates an even more robust response. He told Sinclair, "People may lose their jobs because of this. Congress may hold hearings—I wouldn't be surprised. There are many more shoes to drop."
FUEL FOR TRUMP'S 'DEEP STATE' ANXIETIES
The video series is also gaining traction as it is released into an increasingly paranoid climate in Washington.
In just the past month, Bob Woodward released his book, "Fear," detailing "an administrative coup d’etat" against President Trump. Shortly after, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed by a "senior official in the Trump administration" claiming to be one of many of the senior officials "working diligently from within to frustrate" parts of Trump's agenda and thwart his "worst inclinations."
Trump reacted to the anonymous op-ed by calling for a leak investigation, one of many currently underway at the Justice Department. The president regularly repeats the claim that he is the victim of a "witch-hunt" run from his Justice Department. Earlier this week, he criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for doing little to protect him, saying, "I have no attorney general."
The president's Republican congressional allies have fully supported the president's "deep state" suspicions. House Republicans have launched numerous investigations into the Federal Bureau of Investigation for allegedly "spying" on the Trump campaign, and is probing DOJ officials who they argue acted out of political bias to initiate the Trump-Russia investigation.
House Republicans recently held marathon hearings with former a former FBI agent, Peter Strzok, former DOJ lawyer Lisa Page and current Justice Department officials Bruce Ohr, probing their text messages for evidence of a conspiracy to undermine Donald Trump.
This week, Trump ordered the Justice Department and Director of National Intelligence to declassify a host of documents related to those congressional investigations. Trump told TheHillTV that the move will go down as one of his "crowning achievements" and a "great service to the country." He added, "We have tremendous support, by the way, to expose something that is truly a cancer in our country."
Critics argue Trump is using his power to undermine the Mueller probe and fuel suspicions among that his presidency is under siege by "deep state" actors.
Jesse Lee, vice president of communications at the Center for American Progress, argued that the real threat to the Trump administration is not coming from career civil servants. "President Trump's problems are not coming from them, they're coming from his own appointees in his own White House."
According to a recent poll, roughly 73 percent of Americans believe there is a "deep state," described as a group of unelected government and military officials who secret manipulate or direct national policy. Only 5 percent are confident such a structure definitely does not exist.
The longterm effects on society of promoting this belief are worrisome, Batvinis said. "All it does is weaken confidence and the trust the American people have in the government," he warned. "There's this constant drumbeat. People begin to believe it. And I believe it's not healthy for our government, it's not healthy for our democracy."