WASHINGTON — Hours after F.B.I. agents searched the homes of two former Project Veritas operatives last week, James O’Keefe, the leader of the conservative group, took to YouTube to defend its work as “the stuff of responsible, ethical journalism.”

“We never break the law,” he said, railing against the F.B.I.’s investigation into members of his group for possible involvement in the reported theft of a diary kept by President Biden’s daughter, Ashley. “In fact, one of our ethical rules is to act as if there are 12 jurors on our shoulders all the time.”

Project Veritas has long occupied a gray area between investigative journalism and political spying, and internal documents obtained by The New York Times reveal the extent to which the group has worked with its lawyers to gauge how far its deceptive reporting practices can go before running afoul of federal laws.

The documents, a series of memos written by the…

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