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Fake pimp from ACORN videos tries to 'punk' CNN correspondent

By Scott Zamost, CNN Special Investigations Unit
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CNN reporter target of a failed 'punk'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Conservative activist James O'Keefe planned elaborate sting for CNN, documents show
  • Document shows a CNN correspondent would be "seduced on camera"
  • O'Keefe is best known for fake "pimp" videos that helped end activist group
  • "Right On The Edge" airs this Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. EST
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Editor's note: CNN takes an unprecedented look inside the young conservative activist movement in the documentary "Right On The Edge," which airs Oct. 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. EST.

Lusby, Maryland (CNN) -- A conservative activist known for making undercover videos plotted to embarrass a CNN correspondent by recording a meeting on hidden cameras aboard a floating "palace of pleasure" and making sexually suggestive comments, e-mails and a planning document show.

James O'Keefe, best known for hitting the community organizing group ACORN with an undercover video sting, hoped to get CNN Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau onto a boat filled with sexually explicit props and then record the session, those documents show.

The plan apparently was thwarted after Boudreau was warned minutes before it was supposed to happen.

"I never intended to become part of the story," Boudreau said. "But things suddenly took a very strange turn."

Andrew Breitbart: O'Keefe owes CNN, supporters an explanation

O'Keefe is best known for making a series of undercover videos inside ACORN offices around the country in 2009. The 40-year-old liberal group was crippled by scandal after O'Keefe and fellow activist Hannah Giles allegedly solicited advice from ACORN workers on setting up a brothel and evading taxes.

The videos led to some of the employees being fired and contributed to the disbanding of ACORN, which advocated for low- and middle-income and worked to register voters.

But prosecutors in New York and California eventually found no evidence of wrongdoing by the group, and the California probe found the videos had been heavily and selectively edited.

O'Keefe's next big splash ended with his arrest after he taped associates entering Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in New Orleans posing as telephone repairmen. He ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering a federal office under false pretenses and is now on probation.

But he continues to do undercover projects through his organization, which is called Project Veritas.

The incident occurred in August, when Boudreau agreed to meet O'Keefe to discuss CNN's request to be present on set for a music video shoot in which O'Keefe stars.

Boudreau in her own words

For months, CNN had been following a group of young conservative activists, including Christian Hartsock, the director of the music video. The activists will be featured in a documentary, "Right on the Edge," that will air October 2 and 3.

Hartsock said O'Keefe did not want CNN to shoot on the set of the music video, but said he would encourage O'Keefe to call CNN to discuss the request.

O'Keefe called Boudreau on August 10. During the conversation, he said he preferred that Boudreau meet him in person in Maryland and asked that she come alone.

"I just want to talk," O'Keefe told Boudreau on the phone. "I just want to have a, you know, meeting with you, and talk to you face to face about this. Because, I don't, I feel sort of, let's just say reserved about, about letting people into my sort of inner sanctum, about letting, letting people sort of take a glimpse into, into, behind the scenes, so that's why you know, I just feel more comfortable if it was just me and you and we just had a face-to-face meeting before I agree to, to let you guys come out and shoot the video shoot out there."

The phone call was recorded without Boudreau's knowledge, but CNN obtained a copy of the recording after O'Keefe e-mailed it to friends and colleagues. Boudreau agreed to the meeting, which she understood would be in his office.

"The purpose of the meeting was to explain [the CNN story] in person to James," Boudreau said.

CNN was forwarded an e-mail, sent from O'Keefe's e-mail address, to the executive director of Project Veritas, Izzy Santa; and two conservative activists, Ben Wetmore of New Orleans and Jonathon Burns of St. Louis, Missouri, dated after the call with Boudreau.

"Getting Closer," the e-mail states. "Audio attached conversation with Abbie. What do you think of her reaction guys. She said she could do it Monday, Tuesday. Ben, you think I could get her on the boat?"

Boudreau flew to Baltimore, Maryland, on August 17, rented a car, and drove to suburban Lusby, where O'Keefe wanted to meet. O'Keefe sent a text message to Boudreau that morning, saying that Santa would meet her when she got there.

When Boudreau arrived at the address, a house located on a tributary of the Patuxent River, Santa approached her with a tape recorder in her hand and said she wanted to talk in the car, Boudreau said.

"I noticed she had a little bit of dirt on her face, her lip was shaking, she seemed really uncomfortable and I asked her if she was OK," Boudreau said. "The first thing she basically said to me was, 'I'm not recording you, I'm not recording you. Are you recording me?' I said, 'No, I'm not recording you,' and she showed me her digital recorder and it was not recording."

Santa told Boudreau that O'Keefe planned to "punk" her by getting on a boat where hidden cameras were set up. Boudreau said she would not get on the boat and asked Santa why O'Keefe wanted her there.

"Izzy told me that James was going to be dressed up and have strawberries and champagne on the boat, and he was going to hit on me the whole time," Boudreau said.

A short time later, O'Keefe emerged from a boat docked behind the house. In that brief conversation, Boudreau told O'Keefe that he did not have permission to record her, and reminded him that the meeting was solely to discuss the upcoming music video shoot, and he had never mentioned that he wanted to tape their meeting.

Boudreau ended the meeting and left. After the incident, Santa gave CNN a series of e-mails she says shows O'Keefe intended to try to embarrass both the network and Boudreau through an elaborate plan.

The day of the meeting, she wrote to someone she described as a financial donor to Project Veritas. She would not identify the individual.

"I have a problem on my hands that I think has the potential for unnecessary backlash," Santa wrote. "Today, James is meeting with a CNN correspondent today on his boat. She is doing a piece on the movement of young conservative filmmakers.

"She doesn't know she is getting on a boat but rather James' office. James has staged the boat to be a palace of pleasure with all sorts of props, wants to have a bizarre sexual conversation with her. He wants to gag CNN."

She wrote that "the idea is incredibly bad" and "the more I think about it we should not be doing this."

O'Keefe had also instructed Santa to print a "pleasure palace graphic" on a large poster, according to an e-mail.

CNN later obtained a copy of a 13-page document titled "CNN Caper," which appears to describe O'Keefe's detailed plans for that day.

Read excerpts from the document

"The plans appeared so outlandish and so juvenile in tone, I questioned whether it was part of a second attempted punk," Boudreau said.

But in a phone conversation, Santa confirmed the document was authentic. Listed under "equipment needed," is "hidden cams on the boat," and a "tripod and overt recorder near the bed, an obvious sex tape machine."

Among the props listed were a "condom jar, dildos, posters and paintings of naked women, fuzzy handcuffs" and a blindfold.

According to the document, O'Keefe was to record a video of the following script before Boudreau arrived: "My name is James. I work in video activism and journalism. I've been approached by CNN for an interview where I know what their angle is: they want to portray me and my friends as crazies, as non-journalists, as unprofessional and likely as homophobes, racists or bigots of some sort....

"Instead, I've decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I'm going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she'll get seduced on camera and you'll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath.

"Please sit back and enjoy the show."

Boudreau, who has won multiple awards for her investigative reporting, called the comments "ridiculous."

The document states it was written by "Ben." According to the e-mail chain obtained by CNN, Ben Wetmore sent the document to O'Keefe and Santa. In a statement e-mailed to CNN, O'Keefe wrote: "That is not my work product. When it was sent to me, I immediately found certain elements highly objectionable and inappropriate, and did not consider them for one minute following it."

He did not respond to follow-up questions. Wetmore did not respond to our questions about the document. Instead, he posted a YouTube video criticizing CNN's coverage of the ACORN story.

Burns did not respond to CNN. The "CNN Caper" document warned O'Keefe about how to handle potential problems.

"If CNN gets advance warning and you find this out, you should simply cancel the operation, period," the document states. "You're in a position of strength. Make her [Boudreau] come to you. To leave the boat kills the operation."

The document discusses the potential fallout from the operation.

"If they pursue this as you are a creep, you should play it up with them initially only to reveal that the tape was made beforehand confirming this was a gag," the document states. "If they [CNN] admit it was a gag, you should release the footage and focus on the fact they got punked, and make sure to emphasize Abbie's name and overall status to help burden her career with this video, incident and her bad judgment in pursuing you so aggressively."

Finally, "if they go on the attack, you should point out the hypocrisy in CNN using the inherent sexuality of these women to sell viewers and for ratings, passing up more esteemed and respectable journalists who aren't bubble-headed bleach blondes and keep the focus on CNN."

CNN traveled to Pasadena, California, for the music video shoot involving O'Keefe, but was not permitted on set. Since the Maryland incident, O'Keefe has transferred all of Santa's duties to one of the Project Veritas directors.

Santa's attorney, Christopher Markham, told CNN that Santa "didn't want what could have happened to occur. She thought it may have been a threat to the organization, and didn't want it to happen to [Boudreau]."

Markham said even though Santa's duties were taken away from her, she is still on the Project Veritas payroll.

Ryan Sorba, one of the conservative activists featured in the CNN documentary, said that O'Keefe told him about the planned prank about two weeks ago when they met for dinner in New York City.

"He basically said he was going to pull a prank on Abbie and it didn't work out," Sorba said. "He said, 'I can't talk about it right now, I can't go into any more detail.'"

Sorba said since he was going to be part of the documentary, O'Keefe wanted him to know about what had happened.

Christian Hartsock, another activist who is part of the documentary, told CNN that he knew nothing about O'Keefe's prank.

"If there is truth to this, it sounds like an attempt at satire, a very poor attempt at satire," Hartsock said. "And I wish I would have been made aware of it in advance, and I would have put a stop to it. I think it was a bad tactic if there was truth to it."

Hartsock said O'Keefe was one of his closest friends.

"Does it change how I feel about James O'Keefe? Absolutely not," Hartsock said. "I've had plenty of friends who've made mistakes."

 
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