WASHINGTON -- At the end of a press conference Tuesday in which conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe unveiled a new sting video about Hillary Clinton, one reporter had just one question:
"Are you sure it's not a joke?" she asked.
Project Veritas Action, O'Keefe's infamous nonprofit sting outfit, had promised reporters a "new undercover video exposing illegal activity conducted by high-level employees within Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign." But many in the audience assembled at the National Press Club were bemused to find that the transaction at issue was a gift of campaign swag, or at worst, what O'Keefe's attorney called "akin to jaywalking" in a world where more legitimate claims of campaign finance violations go unpunished by a nonfunctional Federal Election Commission. In the footage, Clinton's campaign takes a $75 donation from an American on behalf of a Canadian.
The Democratic hopeful's campaign has been vigilantly watching for Project Veritas' attempts to catch staff members and volunteers engaging in illegal activity, telling Time that it had already rejected multiple entrapment schemes. O'Keefe was sentenced to three years of probation in 2010 after he pled guilty to breaking into former Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) office. A year earlier, O'Keefe had released sting videos that helped Republicans in Congress drag down ACORN, a now-defunct community organizing and anti-poverty group.
In O'Keefe's latest video, an unnamed Canadian from Montreal asks if she may purchase some merchandise from the campaign at the June event where Clinton announced she was running for president.
Molly Barker, the campaign's marketing director, immediately says that since the woman is Canadian, they can't take her money.
"Do you have a green card or U.S. passport?" Erin Tibe, the campaign's compliance manager, asks.
"No, why would I?" the Canadian says. "I'm Canadian."
Tibe explains that the campaign is legally barred from accepting donations from foreign nationals. "We can't take contributions from anyone that is not a citizen of the United States," she says.
At that point, the Canadian in the video may have walked away and gone back to her country, where there's an uncharacteristically exciting election happening at this very moment, had an undercover staffer with Project Veritas not stepped in.
"But she traveled all the way from Canada to support Hillary," the staffer says in the footage. "You could give her, she's paying cash."
O'Keefe said at the press conference that this was a "spontaneous" event, and that the two women in the video had never met.
"When I go back to Canada, I will be talking about this," the Canadian says in response.
The Canadian then suggested that the Project Veritas staffer could take her $75 to buy the merchandise on her behalf, asking, "She's American, can she buy it for me?"
"Canadians can't buy them, but Americans can buy it for them?" the Project Veritas staffer also asks.
"Not technically," Barker says. "You would just be making the donation." The Project Veritas staffer then hands the money over.
The Clinton campaign told The Washington Post Monday that the video was in no way incriminating.
“This video shows a Project Veritas operative yet again unsuccessfully trying to entrap campaign staffers who very clearly rejected any foreign donation," said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign. "Our staffers understand and follow the law, as demonstrated even in their selectively edited video. Project Veritas, on the other hand, has been caught trying to commit fraud, falsify identities and break campaign finance law—not surprising, given that their founder has already been convicted for efforts like this."
Watch Project Veritas Action's video below:
O'Keefe said at the press conference that his group has "a small group" of "highly trained" and "experienced" people embedded with various campaigns. The Project Veritas undercover strategies have inspired copycats, like those behind the heavily edited sting videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood engaging in the sale of fetal tissues. (Multiple state investigations into the Planned Parenthood allegations have ended with no evidence of any wrongdoing.)
Following successive election cycles in which the group's attempted stings of various Democratic Senate campaigns were discovered before they could have any impact, and allegations of voter fraud were easily disproven, O'Keefe has found himself on the defensive. Benjamin Barr, O'Keefe's attorney, said that Project Veritas is sending a letter to the Clinton campaign Tuesday asking for a refund of $75 for the staffer, though Barr admitted that the staffer facilitating the donation from the Canadian was "a technical violation of the law." The group has not referred the incident to the FEC.
Though O'Keefe was probed twice Tuesday to elaborate on whether the roll-out of the video was a joke, he claimed there are more Clinton videos coming. He added that this footage should be taken seriously, since the campaign responded to The Washington Post's request for comment Monday.
"This is just the beginning," he said "You're just going to have to stay tuned."