Project Veritas leaked the diary of Ashley Biden to a reporter at a conservative news outlet, according to Noel Fritsch, publisher of that outlet, National File, which first published the diary in October 2020, just ahead of the presidential election.
Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe had suspected an employee of his organization leaked the document, the New York Times previously reported, but Fritsch’s confirmation firmly establishes the links in a chain that began in a Florida drug rehabilitation center and led to a predawn raid of O’Keefe’s home last year.
The diary was left behind by Biden, the daughter of President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, at a friend’s house during a rehab stint in Delray Beach, Florida. Aimee Harris, who subsequently lived in the house, discovered the diary, and with Robert Kurlander concocted a Coen brothers-level plan to sell it. Harris and Kurlander recently pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property, with prosecutors confirming the diary as authentic. Kurlander, according to prosecutors, is now cooperating with an ongoing investigation, and a key question being probed is whether Project Veritas understood the diary was legally obtained (as the organization has asserted) or whether it had any role in instructing Harris and Kurlander to steal further personal items of Biden’s in order to allow it to authenticate the diary. (The question could hinge on whether Biden abandoned the items, or was “storing” them at the friend’s home, and planned to return. Prosecutors allege the items were “stored,” not abandoned.) No charges have been filed against Project Veritas or its employees.
Fritsch said that O’Keefe, as far as he knew, did not authorize the leak. “It’s kind of ironic, we had to sort of ‘Veritas’ Veritas in order to get the thing broken and out into the news,” he told The Intercept. He said he wanted to speak with The Intercept in order to raise the alarm about the press freedom implications of investigating Project Veritas. During the Bush administration, he noted, journalists routinely denounced efforts to expose the sources of reporters. “We’re doing the same thing now, but we’re not hearing the phrase ‘chilling effect’ at all,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have both expressed skepticism about the propriety of the investigation into Project Veritas, and in particular the raid of O’Keefe’s home, warning of its press freedom implications. Press freedom advocates who differ with Project Veritas politically, and who are queasy about the deceptive tactics the group infamously deploys, have also voiced opposition to the raid.
“This is just beyond belief,” University of Minnesota law professor Jane Kirtley, a former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told Politico. “I’m not a big fan of Project Veritas, but this is just over the top. I hope they get a serious reprimand from the court because I think this is just wrong.”
The diary’s most newsworthy moments are suggestive but stop short of making any concrete allegations against Ashley Biden’s father. In the most-often quoted passage, she writes, “Hyper-sexualized @ a young age. What is this due to? Was I molested. I think so – I can’t remember specifics but I do remember trauma – I remember not liking the woolzacks house; I remember somewhat being sexualized with [a cousin]; I remember having sex with Friends @ a young age; showers w/my dad (probably not appropriate). Being turned on when I wasn’t supposed to be.”
In general, it is legal for a news outlet to publish stolen documents when they are of public concern. Many whistleblowers, after all, do not have legal authority to leak the documents they are making public. Barring journalists from publishing stolen documents threatens First Amendment rights and gives the government tremendous power to censor the press. But it is also generally understood that journalists may not participate in any crime to obtain information, or ask anyone else to. So, if Project Veritas encouraged the pair to steal more items, the outlet could face charges. But if Project Veritas thought the items were abandoned by Biden rather than stolen, they could be protected by the First Amendment.
Project Veritas is in the crosshairs despite making the decision not to publish the diary. “The guy didn’t even break it and he’s getting treated like an enemy of Stalin,” said Fritsch. O’Keefe, in an email to staff obtained by the New York Times, argues that publication of the diary would have been seen as a “cheap shot” and backfire against Project Veritas. On October 24, the National File published excerpts of the diary, and followed up two days later by publishing the full version. The outlet explained at the time, “National File obtained this document from a whistleblower who was concerned the media organization that employs him would not publish the materials in the final days before the presidential election.”
National File’s readership is largely made up of an extreme right-wing audience, many of whom, Fritsch said, have been banned or suspended from Big Tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Still, it has managed to break some major stories, including being the first to publish an image from former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook, showing a man in blackface beside a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe.
The Times also reported that the Project Veritas whistleblower “adds that his media organization chose not to release the documents after receiving pressure from a competing outlet.” Fritsch said the “competing outlet” referred to a conservative outlet that — the Project Veritas employee told him — urged Project Veritas not to publish the diary.
Federal prosecutors say that Project Veritas paid $40,000 to obtain the diary, a pursuit that continued even after O’Keefe made the decision not to publish, according to prosecutors.
Harris and Kurlander had initially hoped to sell the diary to the Trump campaign and brought it to an event in Florida in an effort to show it to Donald Trump Jr. The Times reported that Trump Jr. advised them to turn it into the FBI. Instead, they reached out to Project Veritas. Fritsch said the plot to get the diary to Trump Jr. was not well thought out. “If they’re in some sort of seaside, boat-in-the-water fundraising event of whatever, Don Jr. is going to jump in the dang canal if somebody tries to push a diary like this in his hands,” he said.
Project Veritas’s attorney, Paul Calli, declined to comment.