(FOX 9) - “This is the scene of the crime, in downtown Minneapolis,” said the guy in the leather jacket against a backdrop of the city’s skyline.
James O’Keefe, of the conservative propaganda operation Project Veritas, was back in the public spotlight and once again making an incendiary allegation: There was major election fraud in Minneapolis.
One problem: The hard evidence of cash in exchange for votes was lacking, and some of the other conduct of collecting ballots might be perfectly legal.
The meat of the Project Veritas report, posted on YouTube Sunday night, was a Snapchat video from the brother of newly elected City Councilman Jamal Hassan. In the video, Liban Mohamed, is seen driving his car and bragging about money in politics with what appears to be dozens of mailed in ballots.
“Money is everything. Money is the king of this world. If you don’t have money you should not be here. Period,” said Liban Mohamed in the video. Attempts to reach Liban Mohamed through his social media accounts were not successful.
For O’Keefe the implication was clear: Money was being exchanged for votes, and those ballots were being "harvested."
But the full context of the video is unclear. Were the ballots sealed? Had they already been filled out? Where did the ballots come from?
And the timing of that video may be critical. The practice of turning in ballots that are not your own – or, "harvesting" – was in flux this summer with three separate court decisions.
Historically in Minnesota, there has been a three-person limit for bringing in other people’s ballots. But in July a district court ruling invalidated that limitation. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the ruling in September, but that was after the primary on August 11.
The court rulings created a window where the three-person limit was not enforced from July 28 through August 11. Project Veritas claims Liban Mohamed’s Snapchat video was posted outside that window on July 2.
The video was buttressed by an interview with a controversial community activist, Omar Jamal. Jamal speculated, without evidence, that the campaign of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was behind the ballot harvesting.
In surreptitiously recorded video, other anonymous figures echo those sentiments in the story.
On Monday, Jamal had set-up a fundraising page as the “Project Veritas Insider,” raising $14,000.
President Donald Trump, who has been suggesting that voter fraud is rampant, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, tweeted about the Project Veritas story: “This is totally illegal. Hope that the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota has this, and other of her (Ilhan Omar) misdeeds, under serious review???”
GOP leaders in Minnesota called for the Minnesota Secretary of State to investigate the allegations.
A spokesperson for Secretary of State Steve Simon, who was recognizing Yom Kippur, said, “Our office does not make determinations of legality, nor do we have investigative authority.”
The spokesperson suggested anyone with evidence of election fraud go to the appropriate county attorney.
But the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said it “… has received no information of cases involving so-called ballot harvesting in any elections.” The office suggested those who do have information go to Minneapolis Police.
A Minneapolis Police spokesperson said, “We are in the process of looking into the validity of those statements,” in the Project Veritas report.
Congresswoman Omar, who won her primary in a landslide by 35,000 votes, said in a statement, “the amount of truth to this story is equal to the amount Donald Trump paid in taxes in 10 out of the last 15 years: zero.”
The timing of the report is certainly curious. The Project Veritas story was posted Sunday night, around the same time the New York Times rolled with its story about Trump’s history of avoiding federal income tax.
O’Keefe has a long resume of disinformation, entrapment, and working in concert with Republican operatives. In fact, O’Keefe recently met with the Chairman of Trump’s Minnesota campaign.
On Monday night Project Veritas released a second part of their investigation that purports to show a ‘ballot harvester’ allegedly connected to Congresswoman Omar giving an unidentified man $200 in exchange for a vote. But the exact circumstances and nature of the light-hearted, joking exchange is unclear.