Mitch McConnell's Bug: A Guy Standing in the Hallway

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Mitch McConnell appears to have been right about the source of the leaked tape of his staff disparaging Ashley Judd, if not the methodology. According to a Kentucky Democratic official, staff of the liberal PAC Progress Kentucky recorded the meeting from a hallway — precisely the group McConnell initially identified.

The day of the recording, apparently February 2, McConnell's campaign held an event to open his campaign headquarters. After the event, and after most of the attendees had left, the campaign team retired to a meeting room for a strategy session. Louisville's WFPL explains what happened next.

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. …

“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.”

Politico reports McConnell's campaign manager saying that the door to the meeting room had a vent that could easily have allowed sound to pass through into an adjacent hallway.

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Such a recording could fall into a legal gray area. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press articulates the law in Kentucky:

It is a felony to overhear or record, through use of an electronic or mechanical device, an oral communication without the consent of at least one party to that communication. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 526.020. A conversation which is loud enough to be heard through the wall or through the heating system without the use of any device is not protected by the statute, since a person who desires privacy can take the steps necessary to ensure that his conversation cannot be overheard by the ordinary ear. Id.

If the campaign headquarters was publicly accessible and the conversation audible from the hallway, the alleged recording by Progress Kentucky may have been legal.

Whether or not it was ethical is a different question. The McConnell camp should certainly have been more careful in ensuring privacy before beginning the meeting, but attitudes toward whether or not the recording was fair game will probably be split along partisan lines.

KFPL wonders why it took so long for the recording to be leaked. Mother Jones indicated that it cleared the tape with its lawyers prior to publishing it, which could account for some of the delay.

One thing the leak won't affect at this point is a McConnell-Judd race, given that Judd decided not to run. It is likely to affect McConnell's upcoming race against whatever Democrat emerges — the entire affair has yielded him a healthy amount of good will and some amount of campaign contributions.

Probably not what Progress Kentucky would have wanted. But they're used to hot water.

Update, 3:00 p.m.: Talking Points Memo recorded an interview between Conway and Fox News.

A necessary mea culpa: If today's report out of Louisville is accurate, which it appears to be, my prediction was wrong. I posited that a staffer from the research firm had recorded it. Apparently not.

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