McConnell Campaign Recording Hints At Federal Election Law Violations
It is 20 months before the 2014 Kentucky Senate race. Now is the time of the year when folks on either side should be getting their ducks in a row, determining if they have support and beginning their fundraising. We shouldn’t be hearing a peep out of Mitch McConnell or any opponents regarding the election… it is just too early. But this is Kentucky, home of Henry Clay. And since Clay entered the national stage in 1806 as a U.S. Senator at the tender age of 29, Kentucky has been just a bit different. Just one year later, while serving as Speaker of the House, he and another Congressman got into a “misunderstanding” which resulted in a duel being fought on January 1806 between Henry Clay and Humphrey Marshall. It was over requiring members to wear homespun suits rather than those made of imported British broadcloth.
On April 9th Mother Jones broke a story that followed the quickly developing news that someone had secretly recorded a campaign strategy session at Mitch McConnell’s Louisville headquarters back in February. At the time, the Internet and media were abuzz about the possible candidacy of Ashley Judd to go after McConnell’s seat, one he has held since 1985.
The transcript of the meeting is here. It opens with the “presenter” laying out their opposition research on Ashley Judd.
“I refer to [Judd] as sort of the oppo research situation where there’s a haystack of needles, just because truly, there’s such a wealth of material.” [presenter of the meeting]
The main thing to come out of this secret campaign meeting was that they fully intended to use past health issues of Judd in a smear campaign that also includes her personal views on children, mountaintop removal, gay marriage, her religion, and of course her “liberal Hollywood” image. But the focus was on crushing her, not comparing her to McConnell’s positions, so the target is her mental health.
“Ah, and again. She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced. I mean it’s been documented. Jesse can go in chapter and verse from her autobiography about, you know, she’s suffered some suicidal tendencies. She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the ’90s.” [presenter of the meeting]
Two questions arose regarding the meeting – did McConnell used Legislative assistants, who are paid for by taxpayers during the campaign planning session and just who was the [Presenter] at the meeting presenting opposition research? Was it a member of McConnell’s Senate staff or, as some suggest, was it someone from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads SuperPAC, the group that put out a hit-piece on Ashley Judd – just FIVE DAYS LATER. Neither would be legal under federal law.
Following the release of the transcripts, the story took on a life of its own, reported throughout the blogosphere and through national media. It became a tale of “your dirty tricks caught our dirty tricks,” though by the time McConnell held his second or third press conference on the subject, he was sputtering that his headquarters were professionally bugged, never once thinking it might have been one of his staff who thought the actions of the campaign crossed an ethical line.
And, like Kentucky weather, going from the mid-80s back to the 40s over the next few days, politics in Kentucky do not stand still. This afternoon the good folks at WFPL FM reported the source of the leak of information that was given to Mother Jones. Jacob Conway, on the executive committee of the Jefferson County [Louisville] Democratic Party, told WFPL that Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison of Progress Kentucky bragged to him about recording the meeting, which was held Feb. 2 at a newly opened McConnell campaign office in Louisville, Ky.
“They [Reilly and Morrison of Progress Kentucky] 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.” – Jacob Conway
Conway later told Fox News that he outed the leak because he “didn’t want the actions by Reilly and Morrison to inflict damage on Democrats in Kentucky.”
In speaking with Jacob Conway this evening, he reiterated to me:
“I meant no malice toward Progress Kentucky nor Reilly/Morrison. My intent was to speak to what the reporter already knew and to insure no damage was inflicted to the Kentucky Democratic Party by Progess Kentucky’s actions.”
This is not the first instance of the Democratic SuperPAC stepping to the edge [or over] the line. On February 14, Progress Kentucky tweeted:
“This woman has the ear of (Sen. McConnell)—she’s his wife. May explain why your job moved to China!”
The tweets and their implications were resoundingly rejected by Kentucky politicos and bloggers as over the line, a fuzzy, oft-times invisible, line.
But not to leave well enough alone, today McConnell approached the FBI to complain that his office had been bugged and his campaign spokesman compared the recording to Nazi Germany:
“This is Gestapo kind of scare tactics and we’re not going to stand for it,” Jesse Benton told radio host Mike Huckabee on Wednesday.
Was it wrong? Sure. But to compare it to the actions of Nazi Germany is indicative of McConnell’s inability to understand equivalence or history… I would have gone with Nixonian rather than Gestapo. But that would have brought up Nixon, and McConnell, at the time of Watergate, was well into National Republican politics. It might have been a touch too close.
Today the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate whether McConnell violated federal law and Senate rules by misusing Senate staff or resources to conduct opposition research on potential campaign opponents.
So, let’s summarize the last 48 or so hours.
- Recording of McConnell campaign strategy meeting released by Mother Jones.
- Recording indicates McConnell campaign [TeamMitch] plan on using old mental health and religions against Ashley Judd [who had not even declared she would run for McConnell’s seat].
- McConnell complains to the FBI that his office had been “bugged.”
- McConnell aide compares bugging of conference room to actions of Gestapo in Nazi Germany.
- Jefferson Democratic Party leader outs Progress Kentucky for the recording.
- Recording was an iPhone drive-by from the hall, not a “bugging of the office.”
- CREW files ethics violation complaint against McConnell.
And it is still April, 20 months before the General Election. Stay tuned.
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