Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Rep. John Curtis' stance on the state's abortion "trigger law" came into question Tuesday as a far-right investigative journalism agency captured a member of the Republican congressman's campaign saying Curtis "stays quiet" about his beliefs to maintain votes.
But Curtis' campaign alleges his opponent is behind the group taking aim at his campaign.
Abortion ban 'trigger law'
Utah's trigger law would take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
SB174 would prohibit abortions in most cases, but it does allow exceptions if the mother's life is at risk, if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or if two physicians who practice "maternal fetal medicine" both determine that the fetus has a severe defect that is uniformly diagnosable and ultimately lethal.
The Project Veritas report — which is circulating on social media — shows a conversation between an undercover reporter posing as a campaign volunteer, and Daniel Stephens, a field director for Curtis' campaign in Provo.
Project Veritas, founded by activist James O'Keefe, has come under fire in the past for its use of deceptively edited videos and undercover sting operations attempting to entrap or embarrass politicians or media organizations. The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for exposing the group's attempt to trick the Post into writing about a fake victim, which numbers among other instances of the group's history of using deception and out-of-context quotes to support right-wing causes.
Curtis is up for reelection in Utah's 3rd Congressional District and is opposed in the Republican primary by Chris Herrod.
According to Stephens' LinkedIn profile, he has worked on Curtis' campaign since January.
"He does not like the trigger laws. He has not come out and stated it, that's the problem," Stephens says of Curtis in the video.
When asked by the undercover reporter why Curtis can't say that he opposes the trigger law, Stephens said: "He won't win. People think we're a RINO (Republican in name only), and people think we're an establishment conservative."
The five-minute video is taken from a low angle and Stephens' face is somewhat obscured due to light from a window behind him.
Curtis denies claims
On Wednesday after the video emerged, Curtis' team sent out a statement from Curtis released last month in which he expressed dismay about the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on Roe v. Wade and says he would "welcome a ruling overturning Roe v. Wade."
"Assuming an eventual ruling is in line with this draft, I find reason for celebration. As someone that has lived the entire five decades of Roe v. Wade, I can't begin to imagine the totality of suffering and unspoken cries of the unborn during this period," Curtis said in the statement.
He added that he and his wife have "mourned for the loss of not just the unborn but their unrealized contributions to our world."
"I would welcome a ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and trust lawmakers at every level of government to pass legislation that aligns with their values, which in my view should include the preservation of life," Curtis said in the statement.
In a statement provided to KSL.com, his campaign spokeswoman Adrielle Herring said Curtis' voting record "is consistently conservative," and she contended that he has been "pro-life through-and-through."
She added that Utah's trigger law "aligns" with Curtis' values and "he believes its provisions are appropriate to preserve life."
Herring further accused Curtis' opponent, Herrod, of "flying to (Washington), D.C. to recruit dishonest organizations to come to Utah and tell Utahns how to vote" and asked him to "stop bringing the swamp to Utah." She noted that this year marks Herrod's third run against Curtis for the position.
When asked why she believes Herrod contacted Project Veritas, she said she noticed Herrod posted the video online "as soon as (Project Veritas) posted it on Instagram." She said he posted the video before the group posted it on all its social media channels, which makes her believe there was "coordination."
Herring and another spokesman did not respond to questions about Stephens' status on the campaign.
When reached for comment, Herrod said neither he or anyone from his campaign spoke to someone from Project Veritas "as far as I am aware."
"Unfortunately, this is what John Curtis and his campaign usually does when he gets caught not speaking the truth. He does this time and time again. Rather than take responsibility, he blames others and plays the victim," Herrod said.
He pointed to two instances in which he said Curtis' words didn't align with his actions.
Campaign worker resigns after video
When asked how Curtis maintains his image, Stephens says in the video: "He stays quiet."
The campaign worker goes on to say that Curtis switched parties soon before the 2017 election in order to run as a Republican.
According to reports, Curtis actually re-registered as a Republican in 2006. Curtis, who previously served as the mayor of Provo, has said he switched parties in 2000 to run for a state senate seat as a Democrat to counter "one-party dominance." Curtis also served for one year as Utah County's Democratic Party chairman from 2002 to 2003.
When asked why Curtis switched parties, Stephens said Curtis "saw that it was ineffective to be a Democrat in Utah Valley, or Utah County." Stephens further states that voters in the area aren't "willing to do the research, they want it to be easy."
Several times in the video, the undercover reporter asks leading questions, such as: "So we can manipulate that and use it to win. Do you think Utah people really notice his policies if he's a registered Republican?"
"The, like, idealistic part of me wants to say yes, but I know, no," Stephens says in the video.
Stephens later shares his personal opinion on the trigger law, calling it "restrictive."
"I don't think it solves any problems. I think you're going to run into a lot more unhealthy, marginalized communities that get unproductive care," he said.
Stephens adds that Curtis "does not like the trigger laws," but when asked if Curtis has said that, Stephens says he has not.
"I don't usually share this with people," Stephens says at one point during the recording.
In a news release, Project Veritas notes it later showed Stephens the video, in person, in Provo. In a video of that interaction between Project Veritas founder O'Keefe and Stephens, Stephens says the original video is "completely taken out of context."
He also criticizes Project Veritas' method of sending in a journalist posing as a volunteer, as well as the leading questions the journalist asked. Stephens also questions why Project Veritas didn't include parts of the video that showed him praising Curtis' work in Congress.
"I'm a 24-year-old working for a campaign, a field director, someone who gets signs out there, someone who's in charge of campaigning, making sure that the grassroots efforts are moving, and you're thinking that my comments are exactly what the politician believes," Stephens said.
But after being shown clips of the original video, Stephens says: "That's unfortunate that I said that. I think that was, you know, bad on my part. Unfortunately, that does associate Congressman John Curtis with a negative image, and that's on me."
Stephens went on to call a campaign manager and tender his resignation on video. The campaign manager, Adrielle Herrings, tells O'Keefe that Stephens is not a spokesperson for the campaign but declines to speak to O'Keefe in person, according to the video.