James O’Keefe, the founder and chairman of Project Veritas, has taken a paid leave from the conservative nonprofit media organization as its board considers whether to remove him from his leadership position, according to current and former employees of the organization.
An internal message sent to Project Veritas employees by the organization’s executive director, Daniel Strack, said that O’Keefe would be taking “a few weeks of well-deserved PTO.” An image of the message was shared by a source familiar with the organization’s internal operations, and its authenticity was confirmed by a current employee. When reached for comment on his personal cell phone, O’Keefe said nothing in response and did not respond to follow-up calls and text messages. Through a Project Veritas spokesman, Strack later released a statement on behalf of the organization. “Like all newsrooms at this stage, the Project Veritas Board of Directors and Management are constantly evaluating what the best path forward is for the organization,” the statement read in part. It did not directly address questions about O’Keefe’s employment status. “There are 65+ employees at Project Veritas dedicated to continuing the mission to expose corruption, dishonesty, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions,” the statement read. “To our supporters: We hear you, we care about you, and we will never give up.”
O’Keefe is his organization’s guiding ideological force and onscreen face, but his status as its day-to-day manager has become uncertain amid reports of internal turmoil, lawsuits from former employees, leaks about its internal workings, and a federal investigation into its conduct in purchasing a diary stolen from Ashley Biden, the president’s daughter. Strack’s internal message to employees made reference to what he called “a distracting time” and said that a board meeting had been held to discuss “the health of the organization” and that while “we have not come up with final solutions yet we have made a few immediate decisions.” The message said two top Project Veritas executives, including the nonprofit’s chief financial officer, had been “reinstated.” Multiple sources said that the pair had recently been fired by O’Keefe.
A meeting of the Project Veritas board is scheduled for Friday, when O’Keefe’s potential removal is set to be discussed, according to one source familiar with the matter. The source said that Project Veritas was currently divided between a group of employees who are perceived to be loyal to O’Keefe, including his communications adviser, R.C. Maxwell, and the board, which has been dissatisfied with what it perceives as O’Keefe’s mismanagement. Matthew Tyrmand, a conservative journalist who serves on Project Veritas’ board, said he was about to walk into a meeting and could not talk when reached on his cell phone on Wednesday. When asked specifically if O’Keefe was being ousted, he replied: “I just said I was walking into a meeting and this was not the appropriate time. What don’t you understand about that?” He did not respond to subsequent phone calls. Two other board members did not respond to phone messages.
As rumors of O’Keefe’s potential ouster circulated among his friends and enemies on Wednesday, his usually pugnacious Twitter and Instagram accounts were silent. Project Veritas continued to promote the organization’s latest stings, including a series of hidden-camera videos that captured a Pfizer scientist discussing what Project Veritas described as dangerous gain-of-function research related to COVID vaccines. (“Pfizer has not conducted gain of function or directed evolution research,” the pharmaceutical company responded in a statement after the videos appeared.) One video in the series culminated with a physical altercation between O’Keefe and the Pfizer employee. In another video, posted in late January, O’Keefe accosted an investigative reporter for the New York Times, Adam Goldman, whose byline has appeared on multiple stories about the Biden-diary case. “Look how scared he is,” O’Keefe says in the videos, as Goldman holds up an iPhone to record their interaction.
“I’m an investigative reporter, unlike you, you’re a government stooge,” O’Keefe says and tauntingly calls Goldman a “punk” and a “Fed-boy!” (From Goldman’s side of the camera, O’Keefe looks even more hostile.)
Even as O’Keefe continued his confrontational act, long-standing infighting at the Project Veritas headquarters in Mamaroneck was coming to a head. Over the dozen years since he founded the nonprofit in a carriage house behind his parents’ home in suburban Westwood, New Jersey, the group has grown from a shoestring YouTube prank operation into a large, ideologically driven news organization with an annual operating budget of more than $20 million. But former employees describe O’Keefe as an erratic and often angry boss. According to a letter dated February 6, which was circulated by Project Veritas staff who were critical of O’Keefe’s management, he “berated” and fired the organization’s CFO, Tom O’Hara, and its chief strategy officer, Barry Hinckley. Hinckley later wrote a message to the staff saying he had “stood up to a bully” and had lost his job as a result. The letter included an 11-page list of testimonials from anonymous current employees, describing O’Keefe, in the words of one, as a “power drunk tyrant.”
Even many of O’Keefe’s enemies wondered, however, if his organization could survive without him as its leader. “Quite frankly, he’s the company,” one former employee said.