The event was billed as a blockbuster, an unveiling of evidence of malfeasance that could help sink the presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
What Project Veritas ultimately provided at the National Press Club on Tuesday morning in Washington was a video of one of its members entrapping a Clinton staffer into kind of, sort of, selling a T-shirt to a Canadian. (The Canadian did not actually make the payment to the Clinton rep. She bought the T-shirt from a Veritas journalist, who first bought it herself.)
The gotcha? Foreign nationals cannot legally give money to a U.S. political campaign. Veritas alleged it had caught Clinton staffers in the act of committing a violation, which, by Veritas' own admission, is about as serious as jaywalking.
Hardly the stuff of a Pulitzer Prize. Yet the conservative organization's founder, James O'Keefe, described the work as in the tradition of Mike Wallace and "60 Minutes."
"This is unbelievable," O'Keefe, who has a history of hidden-camera stings aimed at left-wing targets, said of the T-shirt transaction. "It is not about the dollar amount. It is about the willingness to break the law."
After some surreal back and forth with reporters, a journalist from the Daily Beast finally asked: "Is this a joke?"
O'Keefe said the video was no joking matter. Imagine how widespread this could be, he said. There could be rampant selling of merchandise to foreign nationals through go-betweens like, well, the Project Veritas journalist who facilitated the sale of this shirt in the video to a foreign national. He may have more such videos, O'Keefe said. Or, he may not.
OK, then, reporters said. What about this Canadian who bought this shirt? Who is she? How can we confirm her identity?
"We did not get her name," O'Keefe said. But he warned that T-shirt-Gate was just the beginning of an avalanche of investigative reports to come from Veritas journalists stealthily operating at campaign events and offices around the country.
The Clinton campaign does not appear particularly rattled.
"This video shows a Project Veritas operative yet again unsuccessfully trying to entrap campaign staffers who very clearly rejected any foreign donation," said a statement from Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson. "Our staffers understand and follow the law, as demonstrated even in their selectively edited video. Project Veritas, on the other hand, has been caught trying to commit fraud, falsify identities and break campaign finance law -- not surprising, given that their founder has already been convicted for efforts like this."
After O'Keefe presented all of his evidence, and a Veritas lawyer walked journalists through the intricacies of why the sale was outrageous -- although also comparable to "jaywalking " -- a facilitator asked whether the Daily Beast reporter had any follow-up.
Yes, she did. She asked again: "Is this a joke?"