James O’Keefe, the conservative political provocateur and self-styled Gonzo journalist, posted a video on YouTube on Monday depicting his hostile encounter with former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten that made news last month.
The recording shows a visibly upset Letten — now an assistant dean at Tulane Law School — calling O’Keefe a “hobbit,” a “spud” and an “asshole,” among other names, and berating him for having visited Letten’s house that day and “terrorizing” his wife. The encounter, which Letten also was filming with a cellular phone, was shot on Tulane’s campus.
In voiceovers on the video, O’Keefe accuses Letten of heavy-handedness, and suggests that O’Keefe’s rights were violated when he was briefly detained by campus police.
Reached Monday, Letten declined to comment. Tulane issued a brief statement Monday afternoon that contained a slightly backhanded apology: “Mr. Letten regrets losing his temper in addressing the impropriety of Mr. O’Keefe’s conduct,” it said.
O’Keefe’s beef with Letten dates to the 29-year-old activist’s arrest and prosecution in 2010 for entering U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office, located in the Hale Boggs federal building on Poydras, with several cohorts posing as telephone repairmen. O’Keefe and three others eventually pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge of entering federal property under false pretenses in that case.
Letten, a Republican who managed to stay on as U.S. Attorney during much of the Obama administration thanks to Landrieu’s support, had recused himself from the Landrieu case because the father of one of the accused men was a federal prosecutor whom Letten knew.
In various undercover video exposés, O’Keefe has taken aim at purported hypocrisy on the left, most famously when he posed as a pimp to publicly kneecap the liberal housing activist group ACORN. In some cases — including the pimp costume episode — O’Keefe has selectively edited his videos to make them more damning.
His 2010 caper in Landrieu’s office was meant to show that the Democratic senator’s staff was ignoring constituent calls about health care reform.
On O’Keefe’s most recent sojourn to New Orleans, he went to Letten’s Old Metairie house with a group of at least six people, armed with video equipment. The purpose, apparently, was to confront Letten and to deliver a copy of O’Keefe’s new book: “Breakthrough: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy.”
Letten wasn’t home, but his wife, JoAnn, answered the door. O’Keefe said he needed to speak with the man that prosecuted him “for a crime that he did not commit,” according to a report taken by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. The video posted by O’Keefe shows JoAnn Letten refusing to take a copy of O’Keefe’s book and closing the door.
After leaving the Letten home, O’Keefe and at least five others then moved on to Tulane, where Letten now serves as assistant dean for experiential learning at the law school.
By now, Letten was aware of O’Keefe’s visit to his home. Furious, he unleashed an angry tirade captured on the video that O’Keefe posted Monday. Letten also alerted various law enforcement authorities, including the FBI and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
A Tulane police report says O’Keefe and the others were “issued restricted presence letters” — basically an order to clear off — and escorted off campus. No arrests were made.
The Tulane report listed California addresses for three members of the group, a Texas address for another and a Vermont address for the fifth. O’Keefe lives in Westwood, N.J.
During a three-year probation period that ended in late May that confined him mostly to the Garden State, O’Keefe tried to wrap himself in the mantle of political prisoner. On his website, www.projectveritas.com, he wrote of having “endured 1,210 days of unjust government surveillance and oppression.”
In response to emailed queries last month, O’Keefe did not say why he approached Letten, but disputed the idea that he committed a crime in gaining access to Landrieu’s office. O’Keefe said he showed his ID upon entering the courthouse and “was ultimately charged with a crime I did not commit.”
O’Keefe declined a request from the New Orleans Advocate for an interview Monday.
But on Twitter, he complained that Letten’s tirade had contained “racial slurs,” among other offensive elements.
“Spud ... is a derogatory term for Irishman,” O’Keefe wrote.