Conservatives defending O'Keefe's actions in Landrieu's office are saying that he wasn't trying to wiretap the phones, but rather to see whether the office had done something to the phones to make it hard for constituents to call her to complain about health care.
It has the ring of possibility, for two reasons:
- Otherwise, O'Keefe was taping himself participating in a felony
- How likely is it that these kids knew how to tap a phone system?
On the other hand, it's not impossible that they did know how to tap a phone system--they're not the most complicated pieces of equipment in the universe. And if O'Keefe is willing to risk filming himself participating in something that I'm pretty sure is illegal--impersonating phone company personnel to get into the senator's phone cabinet--then it's not necessarily a huge step to think he's dumb enough to film himself committing a felony.
I presume we'll know soon enough, since they didn't do whatever it is they were planning to do. If that was bugging the phone system, then presumably the FBI caught them with the sort of equipment you can use to bug a phone system.
Ultimately, though, as George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have said, "we're just haggling about the price." Journalists shouldn't impersonate people from the phone company in order to access communications closets. Doing so to get a look at the switch is less wrong than doing so in order to tap said switch. But it's still not right.