McConnell Campaign Strategy Session Was Taped From HallwayPosted: April 11, 2013
POST UPDATED (See end)
A secret recording of a campaign strategy session between U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell and his advisors was taped by leaders of the Progress Kentucky super PAC, says a longtime local Democratic operative.
Mother Jones Magazine released the tape this week. The meeting itself took place on Feb. 2.
Jacob Conway, who is on the executive committee of the Jefferson County Democratic Party, says that day, Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, who founded and volunteered for Progress Kentucky, respectively, bragged to him about how they recorded the meeting.
Conway says neither the local nor the state Democratic party had any part in the incident.
Instead of wasting the FBI’s time, McConnell might want to invest in some soundproofing for his Kentucky campaign headquarters.
Morrison and Reilly did not attend the open house, but they told Conway they arrived later and were able to hear the meeting from the hallway.
“They were in the hallway after the, I guess after the celebration and hoopla ended, apparently these people broke for lunch and had a strategy meeting, which is, in every campaign I’ve been affiliated with, makes perfect sense,” says Conway. “One of them held the elevator, the other one did the recording and they left. That was what they told to me from them directly.”
The meeting room door is next to the elevators on that floor. McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton has told multiple media outlets the door was shut and locked on Feb. 2. But the door has a vent at the bottom and a large gap underneath….if the conversation was audible from a hallway, it’s disputable whether recording qualifies as eavesdropping.
And perhaps McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton might want to tone down his public statements just a tiny bit. From Mother Jones:
A day after Mother Jones published audio of a Louisville meeting in which Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his campaign staff discussed opposition research on prospective challengers, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton has validated Godwin’s law by playing the Hitler card. In an interview with NBC News, Benton compared the leaking of the recording to Nazi Germany. “This is Gestapo-kind of scare tactics, and we’re not going to stand for it,” Benton told Michael O’Brien.
The Gestapo, who served as Hitler’s secret police from 1933 until 1945, were best known for enforcing a reign of terror typified by abductions and executions, as well as aiding and abetting genocide. That’s all quite a bit different than recording 12 minutes of a political strategy session or publishing a legally-obtained tape.
And there’s no evidence that the audio was the result, as the McConnell campaign has insisted, of a Watergate-style bugging operation. Still, that hasn’t stopped McConnell from taking the opportunity to play the victim, blasting out a fundraising pitch accusing the “liberal media” of “illegal and underhanded tactics.”
In other news, Mother Jones reports that
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit government watchdog, has asked the Senate ethics committee and the Federal Bureau of Investigationto probe whether aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell improperly conducted political opposition research on federal government time.
A tape of a February McConnell campaign meeting that Mother Jones released Tuesdayincludes a section in which a McConnell aide states that McConnell’s “LAs”—congressional parlance for legislative assistants—helped gather background information on Ashley Judd, who was at the time considered a potential opponent in McConnell’s 2014 reelection race. The tape also refers to a “Josh” who worked on the research, which CREW’s complaint speculates might be Josh Holmes, McConnell’s congressional chief of staff.
Senate ethics rules forbid legislative assistants and other Senate employees from participating in political activities on government time. “In general, however, the ethics rules do not bar staffers from engaging in campaign activity provided they do it on their own time and do not involve government resources or property,” Tara Malloy, a government ethics expert at the Campaign Legal Center, told Mother Jones on Tuesday. You can read the relevant section of the ethics rules here. Bottom line: If McConnell’s aides did the research in their free time, they’re in the clear. But if they used government resources or worked on political matters on government time, they could be in trouble.
This is an open thread.
More is coming out on this story. TPM reports:
The co-founder of Progress Kentucky, a liberal group accused of recording a private strategy session by aides of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell on the potential candidacy of actress Ashley Judd, has denied doing so, at least according to Joe Arnold, a political editor for the local TV station WHAS11.
The county Democratic Party official who outed two Democratic super PAC operatives in the Mitch McConnell secret tape case has been contacted by the FBI.
Jacob Conway, who sits on the executive committee of the Jefferson County, Ky. Democratic Party, told TPM on Thursday that he was going in to be interviewed at the bureau’s Louisville, Ky. office….
According to Conway, the FBI contacted him only after a local NPR station published its story in which Conway claimed that two local activists from the group Progress Kentucky, Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, had admitted to him that they were the source of the recordings published by Mother Jones earlier this week.
Erik Wemple posted yesterday on the legal issues related to David Corn receiving the tape of McConnell and aides: How did Mother Jones obtain McConnell tape?
I’ll post any further updates in the comments to this post.