Conservative pundits and activists on Wednesday backed away from a young video producer who was arrested with three other men on suspicion of illegally entering the New Orleans office of Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu posing as telephone repairmen.
James O'Keefe III, 25, gained celebrity in conservative circles last year for undercover videotapes he made at several offices of the liberal community organizing group ACORN, in which workers appear to give advice on tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution.
O'Keefe and the others were arrested Monday and charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent to commit a felony.
Federal authorities said two of the men posed as telephone workers, with hard hats, tool belts and fluorescent vests. At one point, O'Keefe was allegedly seen photographing them with his cellphone.
"If they were doing that, it's Watergate," Fox News commentator Glenn Beck said on his radio program Wednesday. "That's insanely stupid, and illegal -- if it's true.
"You don't do anything illegal. That's Watergate territory," he said. "You just don't do that. Besides that, I don't think you even go dressed up. It's a senator, for the love of Pete, it's a senator."
O'Keefe's partner in the ACORN videos, Florida college student Hannah Giles, also dissociated herself from O'Keefe's alleged tactics at Landrieu's office. "I am shocked by the reports of this behavior," she said in a statement. "I am well aware that following the law is an integral part of being a good investigative journalist."
Conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan expressed disbelief over the allegations of criminal behavior in an interview on MSNBC's "Hardball."
"If this is true, this seems like an absurd act," Buchanan said. "If that's what they're doing, bugging her -- the New Orleans office of a United States senator? What in heaven's name do they think they're going to pick up?"
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, who had previously praised O'Keefe for his videos attacking ACORN, wrote that O'Keefe's arrest should "be a lesson to aspiring young conservatives."
"Know your limits," Malkin wrote. "Know the law. Don't get carried away. And don't become what you are targeting."
O'Keefe and fellow suspect Joseph Basel, 24, had run conservative publications at their respective colleges, Rutgers University and the University of Minnesota Morris. A third suspect, Stan Dai, 24, was editor of a conservative newspaper while a student at George Washington University.
The fourth, Robert Flanagan, also 24, wrote for the conservative New Orleans-based Pelican Institute and had criticized Landrieu for voting in favor of healthcare legislation after the Louisiana senator had secured a Medicaid provision for her state. He is the son of the acting U.S. attorney for the western district of Louisiana, William Flanagan.
Times staff writer Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.