Tuesday’s news that four men have been charged with attempting to commit a felony after an attempt to tamper with the phones in U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans has become a big national story. Talking Points Memo has been out in front, reporting on the backgrounds of the four men involved with the plot: Stan Dai, Joseph Basel, James O’Keefe – who famously shot incriminating video of ACORN employees doling out inappropriate legal advice to a man looking to launder prostitution profits – and Robert Flanagan, who is the son of acting U.S. Attorney in Shreveport, James Flanagan.
Many of the national articles I’ve read as to the possible motivations for this scheme to possibly tap Mary Landrieu’s phones mention a recent deal she negotiated into the Senate healthcare reform bill that would increase Medicaid compensation rate to Louisiana to eliminate a temporary spike in the existing federal formula caused by the flow of hurricane recovery dollars. Opponents of healthcare reform have labeled that amendment a bribe, calling it the “Louisiana purchase.”
However, that seems to be an unlikely motivation behind the efforts of the foursome, who call to mind the black-bag operations of Watergate henchman G. Gordon Liddy. Though their efforts were clearly unsuccessful and seem to have been ill-conceived, there was some degree of thought put into the plot. Neither Dai, O’Keefe, or Basel appear to be New Orleans area residents. O’Keefe flew into town to give a talk. They got their hands on costumes and equipment.
It would seem if that degree of planning went into the execution of the event, there was also some strategy behind the decision to visit Landrieu’s New Orleans office at the moment they did. Not only was Landrieu’s Medicaid reimbursement amendment in the Senate healthcare reform bill already a done deal well before this plot was hatched, but she certainly would not have been negotiating on the phone from her district office. The Senator is in her Washington D.C. office and was throughout the Senate’s negotiations on healthcare reform.
The only possible nefarious activity within the realm of possibility that these guys might find would be if Landrieu’s district office were being used to aid her brother Mitch Landrieu’s campaign for mayor of New Orleans. That might be an esoteric sting for the out-of-town crew. The fourth man, Flanagan, is a Louisiana native. It isn’t far-fetched to imagine he’s kept up with local conservative blogs, that have advanced the pet theory that the White House is in cahoots with the Landrieu siblings to help Mitch Landrieu in his mayoral campaign. A different version of the same idea – Howard Dean’s DNC secret involvement in the mayor’s race on behalf of Mitch Landrieu – was advanced by conservative blogs in 2006. Conservative activists worked to help Ray Nagin win his re-election campaign that year, hoping to perpetuate the administration of a Democrat largely seen as weak.
Local blogger Oyster of Your Right Hand Thief has done incredible work documenting the efforts of conservative bloggers and the local GOP hierarchy to meddle in New Orleans elections and also now theorizes that O’Keefe and the gang’s treasure hunt may have been an effort to prove that Mary Landrieu’s senate office was being used inappropriately to aid the ongoing mayoral campaign. Recent polls have shown Mitch Landrieu well ahead of his competitors. The open primary election is Feb. 6. If he finishes with less than 50 percent of the vote, he will face the next highest vote getter in a runoff election on March 6.
It is hard not to question why O’Keefe would want to film his compatriots in the act of tampering with a senator’s phone, regardless of what they expected to catch staffers saying. In fact, with such little detail, it’s not clear they intended to successfully tap the phones at all.
It could have all been an elaborate plan to expose the gullibility of underpaid Senate staffers for all we know. Still, the assumption that these four men were curious about exposing something related to Landrieu’s Medicaid reimbursement amendment doesn’t pass the smell test. If the motivation was indeed to find some sort of unethical activity out of the senator’s regional office, the mayoral election angle seems like the only sensible possibility, assuming there was any sensible reason applied to any element of this half-baked plot.