The Landrieu Phone Case: Not A Bugging After All?

January 27, 2010 12:38 p.m.
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While initial media reports (including on TPM) described the episode at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office as an attempted bugging, that term does not appear in the affidavit and the lawyer for one of the charged men tells TPMmuckraker, “the complaint is not about a wiretap.”

It’s still a mystery what exactly filmmaker James O’Keefe and his companions intended to do when they allegedly arrived at Landrieu’s office. But the accurate way to describe what allegedly happened would be attempted phone tampering.The four men (one of whom was reportedly picked up in a car outside) were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony — specifically, “maliciously interfering with a telephone system operated and controlled by the United States of America,” according to the affidavit.

Asked by TPMmuckraker today about the initial “bugging” reports, Attorney Garrison Jordan replied, “the complaint is not about a wiretap.” Jordan represents Robert Flanagan, one of the two men who allegedly donned a phone repairman costume and tried to get access to the phone system in Landrieu’s office.

The origins of the “bugging” meme appears to be the article that broke the news of the charge, published on the Web site of the Times-Picayune yesterday. It originally began: “The FBI, alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in downtown New Orleans, arrested four people Monday … ”

It has now been edited to read, “Alleging a plot to tamper with phones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in … ”

The Washington Post used similar phrasing and has since corrected its piece.

Meanwhile, the AP has added a new detail to the narrative of what happened Monday. Citing an anonymous law enforcement official, the news service reports “one of the hard hats was rigged with a tiny camera.”

The affidavit alleges that Flanagan and Joseph Basel entered Landrieu’s office wearing hard hats and other gear. O’Keefe allegedly appeared to tape the pair with his cell phone as they interacted with a staffer.

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