What first looked to be a campaign leak or a “Watergate-style” bugging may actually have been one guy with an iPhone.
Democrats in Kentucky are running away from the liberal activist group Progress Kentucky after one of its members was linked to a secret recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign strategy session.
The tape, recorded in February and released by the magazine Mother Jones last week, contains audio of Mr. McConnell’s political staff discussing plans to attack the candidacy of actress Ashley Judd. Miss Judd had considered challenging the Kentucky Republican for his Senate seat, but decided against it.
Soon after the tape was released, Mr. McConnell blasted Democrats for using “Nixonian” tactics by bugging his Louisville office, accusations that triggered an FBI investigation.
Establishment Democrats in Kentucky have begun to separate themselves from the organization, described as a small activist outfit with little influence in state politics.
“This has nothing to do with the party or even a group,” said Chris Tobe, a former board member of the state’s Democratic Party. He added that the culprit in the recording is “creating a national media buzz by bending or breaking the rules.”
After the tape became public, Jacob Conway, a member of the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee, first raised the possibility that Progress Kentucky was behind the recording. He said that Mr. Morrison and Progress Kentucky Executive Director Shawn Reilly bragged to him about the incident, though he quickly backtracked on that assertion, adding another layer of confusion to an already bizarre story.
“I had a lot of conversations with both of them during that time period, and maybe I was just confused, and maybe [Mr. Reilly] never said anything,” Mr. Conway told The Louisville Courier-Journal. “Maybe my memory wasn’t correct.”
Mr. Reilly’s attorney, Ted Shouse, told The Associated Press that his client is “innocent” and is, at most, “a witness to Mr. Morrison’s criminal activity.” The AP also reported that attempts to contact Mr. Morrison, both by phone and in person at his Louisville home, were unsuccessful over the weekend.
It’s not the first time members of Progress Kentucky have clashed with Mr. McConnell. The group also has been accused of sending offensive tweets using racial slurs directed at the minority leader’s wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who is of Asian heritage.
Over the past several days, the focus has been almost exclusively on the recording and how it was made. But there’s been little discussion, with the exception of a statement from Miss Judd and criticism from some Democrats, about the actual content of the tape.
In it, Mr. McConnell’s staff can be heard discussing a strategy of attacking Miss Judd’s candidacy by making an issue of her history of depression and the fact that she’d considered suicide as a young woman, something the actress has admitted.
Pressed by reporters last week at the Capitol, Mr. McConnell wouldn’t discuss the details of the tape, instead focusing his answers on the investigation into who recorded the discussions.