POLITICS

Surprise, Surprise: Reports Debunk Viral Project Veritas Video About Harvesting Ballots

The video, produced by far-right huckster James O’Keefe and promoted by Trump, claimed to prove Rep. Ilhan Omar committed election fraud. It does not.
Far-right propagandist James O'Keefe would like you to believe his latest video offers proof of election fraud in Minnesota.
Far-right propagandist James O'Keefe would like you to believe his latest video offers proof of election fraud in Minnesota. Do not believe him.

A viral video produced by the fraudulent far-right propaganda outlet Project Veritas and widely promoted by major Republican figures, which claimed to show Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s reelection campaign illegally collecting ballots in Minnesota, continues to be discredited.

Multiple media reports since the video was published on Sept. 27 have detailed ways in which Project Veritas used untrustworthy sources and deceptively edited clips to smear Omar, who is the frequent target of right-wing attacks.

The Project Veritas video, produced by the organization’s head huckster James O’Keefe, was promoted by President Donald Trump on Twitter and purports to show that Omar committed election fraud by hiring people to “harvest ballots” in exchange for money.

But on Monday, the Minneapolis-based Fox affiliate KMSP published an explosive exclusive interview with a Minneapolis man named Liban Osman, a main subject of the video, who recounted how a man working with Project Veritas had offered him $10,000 to claim that he was harvesting ballots for Omar. Osman told KMSP he rejected the offer.

The Project Veritas video includes footage that Osman himself posted to Snapchat, showing off ballots he’d collected. But Osman was not collecting ballots for Omar, but for a local city council candidate in Minneapolis.

This type of so-called “ballot harvesting” — collecting mail-in ballots from voters who are sick, elderly or otherwise unable to get their votes in the mail — may not have even been illegal. In Minnesota, campaigns are typically allowed to collect only three ballots at a time, but a district court ruling earlier this year permitted the collection of more ballots over a five-week period from July 28 to Sept. 4.

Whereas Project Veritas claims Osman posted the Snapchat videos in early July, he told KMSP the videos were posted in late July.

“So you’re saying a coordinated misinformation campaign by a known fraud was actually…a fraud?!” Rep. Omar tweeted Tuesday in response to the KMSP report. Omar’s campaign has repeatedly denied committing any type of election fraud.

“This is on brand for Trump and his stooges, fraudsters who love concocting desperate racist conspiracies and chaos in an effort to distract the public from their failures,” Omar wrote.

The KMSP report was not the first to debunk Project Veritas’ claims about Omar.

Last week, the Daily Dot published a report that discredited Project Veritas’ key “source” from the Somali community in Minneapolis. In the video, Omar Jamal identifies himself as the chair of the “Somali Watchdog Group” and says he “works with the Ramsey County Sheriff Department in Minnesota.” He repeatedly accuses Osman and Omar’s campaign of a coordinated, widespread election fraud campaign.

But several damning revelations in the Daily Dot report call into question Jamal’s credibility. The “Somali Watchdog Group” he chairs? Jamal only registered its website in late August, seemingly after Project Veritas began producing its video about supposedly illegal ballot harvesting. The group’s bare-bones website doesn’t mention any other members or affiliates.

The Daily Dot reached out to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office to confirm whether Jamal is or has ever been employed by the office, but never received a response, according to the outlet.

A spokesman for Project Veritas could not confirm the authenticity of the Somali Watchdog Group or whether Jamal actually ever worked with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.

“He represented to us that he was — had a relationship with the Ramsey County Sheriff Department,” the spokesman told the Daily Dot.

On his LinkedIn page, Jamal states he is a “Somali Permanent Representative” at the United Nations and a former student of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of international affairs.

But the Daily Dot found that neither of these claims is true.

“Fuck you,” Jamal told the publication when asked about the inconsistencies. “I’m going to report you … I want to fuck your mother, that’s the school I went to!”

Moreover, according to a report in the Sahan Journal, Jamal recently appeared on Somali American TV and walked back claims made in the Project Veritas video that he witnessed cash being exchanged for votes for Omar.

Jamal is the man Osman claims told him that Project Veritas would give him $10,000 to say he was collecting ballots for Omar.

Reached for comment by HuffPost, a Project Veritas spokesman sent a link to a YouTube video in which O’Keefe denies that the organization offered bribes.

The Project Veritas video also includes more allegations that Democratic operatives tied to Omar’s campaign paid people to hand over blank mail-in ballots which the campaign then filled out. The allegations, however, are made by unidentified people whose faces are never shown on camera.

Project Veritas is a “right-wing disinformation outfit,” according to researchers at Harvard University, with a long history of conducting elaborate undercover “sting” operations it documents in deceptively edited videos to smear liberals.

James O'Keefe, the well-funded far-right propagandist behind Project Veritas, infamous for creating deceptively edited videos
James O'Keefe, the well-funded far-right propagandist behind Project Veritas, infamous for creating deceptively edited videos, is cozy with major GOP figures including the president. Here, he is speaking on the main stage at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference.

This year, Project Veritas has been focused on delegitimizing mail-in voting, a goal it shares with the White House. One source close to Project Veritas even told The New Republic that the group’s sole aim this year is “literally to get Trump reelected.”

It’s unsurprising then that many prominent figures in the MAGAverse, including the president himself, promoted the latest Project Veritas video.

“What about Omar that she gets caught harvesting,” Trump told a crowd of supporters at a rally in Minnesota shortly after he contracted the coronavirus. “What the hell is going on?”

The president and his son Donald Trump Jr. both promoted the video to their millions of followers on Twitter.

A damning report from the Stanford Internet Observatory uncovered evidence that Project Veritas coordinated the release of its latest video with the Republican Party in an attempt to draw attention away from a major New York Times investigation on Trump’s tax dodging. 

Project Veritas — which has received millions of dollars in funding from organizations connected to billionaire conservative megadonors, including the Koch Brothers — has enjoyed close ties with the GOP. Earlier this year, O’Keefe was a featured speaker on the main stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the premier annual gathering of the American right. 

The Minneapolis Police Department has also helped lend credibility to O’Keefe’s latest sham investigation, tweeting a day after its release that the allegations were “being evaluated” by police.

“The MPD is aware of the allegations of vote harvesting,” the department tweeted Sept. 28. “We are in the process of looking into the validity of those statements. No further information is available at this time on this.”

But the MPD hasn’t yet released an update on its findings, despite the mounting evidence against O’Keefe’s claims. A spokesperson for the MPD did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.