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FBI probing if phone-tamper plot was prank or spying

NEW ORLEANS - Was it an attempt at political espionage, or just a third-rate prank? Was anyone else involved?

In what some Democrats are calling the "Louisiana Watergate," four young conservative activists, one of them a known political prankster, were arrested this week and accused of trying to tamper with the telephones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office.

But two days after their arrest, neither the FBI nor federal prosecutors would say what the defendants were up to or whether they were part of some larger conspiracy.

Authorities said two of the defendants posed as telephone repairmen and asked to see the phones in Landrieu's office; one of them had a tiny camera in his hard hat. A third man is alleged to have waited in a car with a listening device.

The fourth, James O'Keefe, used his cell phone to try to capture video of the scene inside, authorities said. Last year, O'Keefe, 25, a self-described investigative journalist, posed as a pimp in the hidden-camera videos that embarrassed the community organizing group ACORN.

Michael Madigan, O'Keefe's lawyer, said yesterday that his client was not trying to wiretap or interfere with Landrieu's phones, but he would not explain why he was there.

The incident occurred a month after Landrieu announced her support for the Senate health care bill. As the vote neared, conservatives complained they were unable to register protests at her offices because their calls were referred to voice mail boxes that often were full.

All four men were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony, which carries up to 10 years in prison. They were not charged with wiretapping.

Meanwhile, the conservatives who once made O'Keefe their hero for his hidden-camera expose of ACORN distanced themselves from his latest actions.

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