A Project Veritas purports to show an exchange of cash for a voter registration form. Credit: Screenshot via Project Veritas' YouTube page.

Earlier this week, a right-wing media outfit called Project Veritas released a two-part video sting that, without clear evidence, alleged to discover voting fraud in Minneapolis’ Somali community, including payments for ballots. 

On Wednesday, however, Omar Jamal, a man who Project Veritas said was the main source for its investigation, gave a starkly different account of his participation in the Project Veritas segments. His new claims seemed to contradict key facts and scenes described in the original tape—what Project Veritas on Twitter describes as “the biggest systemic voter fraud smoking gun in American history.”

In a 25-minute video on Minnesota-based Somali American TV—a program that provides news and information about Somalis and broadcasts online via social media channels—Omar Jamal speaks in Somali about the election fraud story. Omar Jamal specifically alleges that he thinks a clip that purports to show a “ballot harvester” paying a voter $200 in exchange for a vote was instead a demonstration of how that process allegedly works. That is, not an example of “systemic voter fraud” seen in real time.

Project Veritas leader James O’Keefe introduces the political video as “an explosive piece of tape [that] shows a man buying a registration form for an absentee ballot for a voter, giving him ‘pocket money’ of $200 and expecting to collect his ballot when the voter receives it.”

In the Somali American TV interview, the show’s host, Ali Harare, asks Omar Jamal whether he met anyone who received cash in exchange for a vote.

He replies no. 

Project Veritas did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Omar Jamal interview. 

Omar Jamal declined an interview request from Sahan Journal.

Omar Jamal’s new statements muddled what was already a confusing story. In some sense, that confusion seemed to match the methods of Project Veritas, which media researchers at Harvard University have labeled a “right-wing disinformation outfit.” 

Project Veritas and its leader, James O’Keefe, have gained a measure of fame in right-wing media circles for their sting operations, entrapment tactics, and deceptively edited videos. The group’s current focus is to undermine the credibility of mail-in voting, also a major goal for President Donald J. Trump, who is trailing in election polls. 

The operation’s purpose, according to a source close with Project Veritas who spoke to The New Republic, is “literally to get Trump reelected.”

Much of the footage in the two videos released this week comes from hidden cameras or social media accounts. While it’s difficult to follow the plot line, the sting depicts a variety of voting practices, which may or may not be illegal. 

Anonymous sources accuse a collection of separate Somali Americans of paying cash for votes and also organizing “ballot harvesting.” This is a mail-in ballot practice, often legal, in which a third party collects election ballots from voters and submits them to election judges. 

The first tape purports to show a man collecting absentee ballots for the August primary election. In Minnesota, it’s legal to turn in up to three ballots for other voters—although Minnesota courts eliminated that limit for a five-week period this summer. 

The second tape purports to show an exchange of cash for a voter registration form. However, the video footage doesn’t clearly depict any exchange of money. 

Omar Jamal now says he never saw cash paid for ballots

The key source in the Somali community—who speaks with Project Veritas voluntarily and on the record—is Omar Jamal. In the videos, he alleges that prominent politicians are engaged in a cash-for-ballots scheme. A community activist, Omar Jamal has a history of making provocative and unsubstantiated allegations in the media, dating back more than a decade. 

In 2009, he made appearances on national television to share unsubstantiated opinions that al-Qaeda cells were operating in the Twin Cities. He’s also participated in a panel organized by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher about a controversial training program on stopping terrorism. 

At the time, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations denounced the panel. And it expressed doubts about Omar Jamal, pointing to allegations that he lied to immigration officials in the early 2000s. 

In the Somali American TV interview, Omar Jamal says he decided to work with Project Veritas after the group approached him with alleged evidence of voter fraud. He says the group was specifically targeting Representative Ilhan Omar.

He also states that Project Veritas sent some of its operatives to polling centers during Minnesota’s August primary election. 

In the interview, Omar Jamal says he sometimes was obliged to go with the group when they were secretly filming their interviews. He maintains that at other times he wasn’t aware that the group was taping him.

At one point, host Ali Harare asks Omar Jamal specifically about the part of the video where two men are talking about how to fill out the voter registration form and appearing to joke about when they will close a “deal.” 

The host asks Omar Jamal if the Project Veritas clip showed people being told to vote for a certain candidate in exchange for money, or whether he met anyone who offered cash for a ballot. Omar Jamal responds to Ali Harare: “No, I haven’t met them. I think that incident was one that was depicting how [cash-for-ballot] works.”

President Trump has so far tweeted about or retweeted the Project Veritas video ten times, starting Sunday night. His first tweetstorm started shortly after the New York Times published a bombshell report showing that Trump has paid almost no taxes over the last ten years. He also cited the video in his Duluth campaign appearance Wednesday night. 

Though Omar Jamal’s new comments seem to contradict what Project Veritas claims, he is raising funds to continue collaborating with them through the November election.

Since the Project Veritas videos came out, Omar Jamal has set up a GoFundMe fundraise page. He’s seeking $500,000 to “further expose potentially more election fraud come November,” fight potential legal challenges, and establish financial stability for his family. 

On social media, Project Veritas has been asking its supporters to donate to Omar Jamal’s fundraiser. 

GoFundMe said it’s investigating the authenticity of the page. “I can confirm that our Trust & Safety team is investigating this fundraiser and has reached out to the organizer for more information,” a GoFundMe spokesperson told the Daily Dot, a news source that covers internet culture.

Three days after launching the campaign, Omar Jamal had raised more than $30,000.

Mukhtar M. Ibrahim

Mukhtar M. Ibrahim is the founder, editor and executive director of Sahan Journal, a nonprofit news organization that covers immigrant and refugee communities in Minnesota. He oversees the organization's...

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.