Members of the liberal group Progress Kentucky told a local Democratic official that they secretly recorded a private conversation between Mitch McConnell and his campaign aides, according to a published report from a local public radio station, a bombshell revelation that, if true, might lead to criminal charges against the alleged culprits.
Mother Jones on Tuesday published a recording of the meeting, in which the Senate minority leader reviewed opposition research against actress Ashley Judd, who was then considering running against him as a Democrat. The recording sparked a firestorm in Washington, with McConnell declaring that his campaign had been illegally bugged by Democrats. But until now, it wasn't clear where the audio tape came from, or how it was acquired.
Jefferson County Democratic Party official Jacob Conway told WFPL-FM, a Louisville NPR affiliate, that Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, founders of Progress Kentucky, recorded the conversation while standing outside the meeting room door where McConnell and his staffers were talking. The discussion occurred on Feb. 2, in a newly-opened McConnell campaign office in Louisville.
Reilly and Morrison declined to comment to WFPL. It isn't clear, according to WFPL, if their alleged actions are illegal under Kentucky law.
The story does not square with McConnell's allegations, made repeatedly Tuesday, that his office had been illegally bugged. But it will nonetheless be seen as vindication for the Kentucky senator because it does prove that the audio tape didn't originate from a member of his own staff.
McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton called the report "disturbing."
"At this point, we understand that the FBI is immersed in an intensive criminal investigation and must defer any further comment to them," he said.
Allegations about the tape, both how it was acquired and the content, have become a political football between the two parties. On Tuesday, DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil called on McConnell to apologize for suggesting Judd's history of depression would be useful cudgel against her if the two ran against each other.
The NRSC, meanwhile, suggested Thursday that the DSCC and DNC helped publish the possibly illegal audio recording.
"It is becoming more and more likely that this was a coordinated hit by the left, and [it's] telling that the DNC and DSCC remain silent about what they knew about the illegal tape and when they knew it," NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring said in an e-mail.
Cecil said Tuesday that the committee didn't know the origins of the recording.