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Inside McConnell HQ, test demonstrates alleged bugging

by Joe Arnold


Posted on April 16, 2013 at 5:02 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 7 at 3:15 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- The center of political intrigue and an FBI investigation in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race is the otherwise inconspicuous second floor hallway of the Watterson West office building in Louisville.

People visiting medical offices on the same floor are given no indication that behind plain, black doors is Sen. Mitch McConnell's campaign headquarters.

It is in this hallway on February 2 that two members of the Progress Kentucky SuperPAC allegedly recorded a private campaign strategy meeting underway inside an office on the other side of one of those plain, black doors, according to Jacob Conway a member of the Jefferson County Democratic Party's Executive Committee.

The attorney for Progress Kentucky executive director Shawn Reilly, Ted Shouse, acknowledged that Reilly was inside the building when the meeting was recorded, yet only as a witness to the activities of Curtis Morrison, a SuperPAC volunteer.  Since then, Morrison left Progress Kentucky amid a controversy over several tweets that referred to the Chinese ancestry of McConnell's wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Conway said both Reilly and Morrison bragged to him about the recording.  Despite later telling the Louisville Courier-Journal that his recollection could be mistaken, Conway re-affirmed his account to WHAS11.

"One of them was by the elevator and the other recorded it, was what was told to me," Conway said.

McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, showed WHAS11 News the door he believes was used by whomever recorded the strategy session.  It is several feet from one of three sets of elevator doors in the second floor hallway.  The campaign's suite of offices straddle both sides of the elevator area.

"You have about a half an inch gap right there where a recording device or a microphone could have been inserted," Benton said, pointing to the bottom of the door.  Though Benton initially believed that vents toward the bottom of the door were cosmetic only, a closer inspection by WHAS11 indicated the vent, though painted, would still allow air and sound to pass through.

It was behind the door on February 2 that Benton estimates about ten members of senior staff and McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, discussed opposition research, including on actress Ashley Judd, then considered a potential Senate challenger.

"She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced, it's documented," a man's voice, believed to be the opposition research presenter, is heard on the recording published on the left wing Mother Jones website on April 9.

With the campaign's permission, WHAS11 tested whether an iPhone voice memo program could successfully record a conversation by placing the phone's mouthpiece at the bottom door opening.

Playback of the test recording confirmed that it captured the voices of campaign workers meeting behind the door.  The workers had been advised of the recording test.

As an FBI investigation continues, it is not yet known if anyone will be charged in "WattersonGate."

Some legal analysts suggest that if the closed door meeting could be heard from the hallway, the recording might not be a crime.  During the WHAS11 visit, some voices could be heard, without electronic assistance, from the hallway.

Though the building is accessible to the public, Benton said it would have been locked the Saturday afternoon when the meeting was conducted.