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Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
UPDATE: Shawn Reiley, co-founder of Progress Kentucky, denies taping McConnell and their staff's conversation:

Yesterday I released a diary about Senator Mitch McConnell (R. KY) blaming progressives for secretly taping his conversation with staff members on how to destroy Ashley Judd if she were to run for Senate:

Well unfortunately, McConnell is kind of right:

Members of the Democratic group Progress Kentucky were behind a leaked recording of a private conversation among Sen. Mitch McConnell and his campaign staff about potential rivals, a local Democrat alleges.

The tape was not made by bugging the Republican senator’s office but by standing in the hallway while the conversation occurred, Jacob Conway, a member of the executive committee of the Louisville/Jefferson County Democratic Party, told news organizations.

Conway told Louisville NPR affiliate WFPL that Shawn Reilly, Progress Kentucky’s executive director, and Curtis Morrison, a former spokesman for the group, had boasted to him about making the tape.

According to Conway’s account, the recording was made in early February, when McConnell held an open house, with media included, to unveil his reelection campaign headquarters in Louisville. Reilly and Morrison were not at the open house, Conway said, but they arrived afterward and heard and taped the private conversation from the hall. The recording was published by Mother Jones, a liberal magazine. - Washington Post, 4/11/13

Here's what Conway said on WFPL:

On Feb. 2, McConnell opened his campaign headquarters in the Watterson Office Park in Louisville and invited trusted GOP activists and select media outlets to an open house. The event lasted roughly two hours. Afterward, McConnell and several campaign advisors held a strategy session in an office meeting room.

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.”

Other sources have corroborated this series of events to WFPL. 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.

“Apparently the gentlemen overheard the conversation and decided to record it with a phone or recording device they had in their pocket. Could've been an iPhone, could've been a Flip camera or something like that,” Conway say.

Sources tell WFPL the portion of the meeting that was recorded came at the end of the strategy session.

It's unclear why Reilly and Morrison held onto the tape for so long. Kentucky law says it is a felony “to overhear, record amplify or transmit any part of a wire or oral communication of others without the consent of at least one party thereto by means of any electric, mechanical or other device."

But if the conversation was audible from a hallway, it's disputable whether recording qualifies as eavesdropping. - WFPL News 89.3, 4/11/13

Conway also explains why he came forward with the news about Progress Kentucky's actions:

Conway told Fox News he came forward to clear the names of the state and national Democratic parties.

“As a party official, I thought it would — You know, the McConnell campaign is going to try to tie the Democratic Party here, locally, and on the state level and nationally, and they already have, to Progress Kentucky,” he said. “The only reason I came forward with what I knew was to protect the Democratic party.”

Conway said the FBI had not spoken to him. - Politico, 4/11/13

It's understandable why Conway and the Kentucky Democratic Party don't want to be associated with Progress Kentucky.  They let the cat out of the bag early on:

The Tea Party has been looking to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a Republican primary, and members will get help from their new ally–Democrats. Democratic donors with deep pockets and a left-leaning super PAC in Kentucky have the same goal: they want to find a viable candidate who can oust McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2014.

Keith Rouda, a field organizer with MoveOn and the super PAC Progress Kentucky told Politico that after “reaching out to some of the Tea Party folks across the state, what we’re finding–at least in this stage of the race–we’re finding that our interests align. It’s unusual.”

Sarah Durand, president of the Louisville Tea Party, says that Democrats have offered to spend up to seven figures helping them out in the Republican primary. “I really think if Sen. McConnell can’t garner some enthusiasm within the Tea Party, which is going to be very difficult at this point, then he’s going to have a really tough road ahead in this election cycle.” - MSNBC, 1/28/13

It wasn't a bright idea to come out and brag about going sides with the Tea Party to help get rid of McConnell.  It only motivates Republican voters, who may be dissatisfied with McConnell, to only get behind him.  Plus there was this incident:

A liberal super PAC in Kentucky is on the defensive after recently sending a racist tweet attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) wife for being Chinese.

McConnell, running for reelection in 2014, is married to former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan after her family fled mainland China during the Chinese Civil War. One super PAC dedicated to defeating McConnell, Progress Kentucky, has spent months relentlessly hammering the Republican on outsourcing.

However, on February 14, they took the matter a step further and sent the following tweet impugning McConnell’s wife’s heritage as an explanation for why Kentucky jobs have been outsourced:

This woman has the ear of @mcconnellpress — she’s his #wife.May explain why your job moved to #China!…
— Progress Kentucky (@ProgressKy) February 14, 2013

Progress Kentucky spokesman Curtis Morrison issued the following statement to WFPL on the matter: “It’s not an official statement. It’s a Tweet. And we will remove it if it’s wrong.” Nearly two weeks later, though, the offending tweet has not been deleted. - Think Progress, 2/26/13

Plus this incident may have only helped McConnell:

Conway told NBC News that he came forward now to dissociate the group from the Democratic Party. But the upshot of the episode is that instead of a news cycle or two of pundits chewing over whether it’s fair game for the most powerful Republican in the U.S. to attack a would-be opponent for suffering from depression, the story becomes a scandal about a surreptitious bugging operation. This is the second time in two months that Progress Kentucky, a group whose entire existence seems geared toward taking down McConnell, has instead propped him up. With enemies like these, who needs friends? - Time, 4/11/13
However, despite Progress Kentucky's actions, there's not enough evidence to prove what they did was a felony.  In fact, the recording actually highlighted a ethics violation committed by McConnell and his staff:

The bigger problem for McConnell is that CREW has filed an FBI complaint against him for misusing official staff for campaign purposes. “Using taxpayer-funded resources to pay staffers to dig up dirt on political opponents isn’t just an ethics violation, it’s a federal crime. Sen. McConnell requested, the FBI is investigating the recording. A thorough and fair investigation necessitates the bureau also inquire into whether Sen. McConnell himself violated the law,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.

The leaked tape opened up a can of worms for McConnell. The Republican still hasn’t answered questions concerning his remarks about Ashley Judd’s mental health, and now he has to deal with an ethics complaint.

Mitch McConnell is not the victim here, and he has definitely not been vindicated. What Progress Kentucky did, much to the dismay of Democrats, was feed the vulnerable incumbent’s desperate attempt to ride right wing paranoia to reelection. - Politics USA, 4/11/13

Though Progress Kentucky made some mistakes in their plan to take out McConnell, they did expose McConnell's vulnerability.  While Democrats are waiting for Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes (D. KY) to make her decision on the Senate race, the Tea Party is still looking into getting rid of McConnell:

"There is a lot of discontent in McConnell Land," said David Adams, who blogs in Kentucky and was Rand Paul's first campaign manager in 2010. "People aren't feeling like the Republican Party in the state is going in the right direction."

The relationship between McConnell and Paul -- who were ferocious enemies until the end of the 2010 primary -- is described by one Kentuckian on the Hill as merely "transactional." McConnell was the tea party's real target in that election, with his chosen candidate, Trey Grayson, just the stand-in.

Now it is McConnell himself who has to face the grassroots wrath, at a time when his overall approval rating in the state is 36 percent -- the worst of any senator.

Adams ticked off his major complaints about McConnell on the issues: "The bank bailout. The sum total of all the wasteful federal budgets he voted for, especially in the Bush years. The Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, for what they did to privacy and civil rights. All the pork barrel money he brings back and all the press releases he puts out it.

"We've got hundreds.

"Just all the years of him claiming that he cares about freedom and liberty when his long record shows otherwise.

"He's playing his own form of whack-a-mole. He pops out of every hole there is." - Huffington Post, 4/10/13

Wealthy Louisville businessman, Matt Bevin, has been mentioned by the Kentucky Tea Party as a potential candidate to challenge McConnell.

Originally posted to pdc on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 04:09 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, My Old Kentucky Kos, and Extraterrestrial Anthropologists.

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