'Watterson-Gate,' liberal SuperPAC members accused of taping McConnell meeting


by Joe Arnold and Karma Dickerson


Posted on April 12, 2013 at 12:08 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 7 at 4:15 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The mystery of "Watterson-Gate" may now be revealed.

A Jefferson County Democratic Party official alleged Thursday that two men affiliated with the liberal SuperPAC Progress Kentucky, Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, bragged about secretly recording a private McConnell campaign meeting on February 2.

"Why they did it, I didn't know anything like that.  They just got overwhelmed and recorded it," said Jacob Conway, a member of the Jefferson County Democratic Party Executive Committee.

"Mr. Reilly is completely innocent of any criminal wrongdoing," countered Ted Shouse, Reilly's attorney.  "He is, at most, a witness to potential criminal activity."

Yet, Shouse acknowledged that Reilly was in the Watterson West office building which houses McConnell's campaign headquarters when the recording was made.

"He was there," Shouse said. "He was a witness to Mr. Morrison's activities."

Morrison, then a Progress Kentucky volunteer, has not publicly commented on the allegations.

After the recording surfaced on the Mother Jones website Tuesday morning, Reilly went directly to the U.S. Attorney's office, cooperated fully with the FBI and made clear to federal authorities that if anyone should be implicated, it's Morrison, Shouse said.

"We have in the last three days provided what we know to be material support and information to the FBI in their efforts to locate Curtis Morrison who is - if anyone - guilty of criminal activity in this case," Shouse said.

FBI agents have visited the campaign headquarters at least twice, said Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager.  The FBI took photos,  examined the personal devices of McConnell's staff and requested security camera video from the Watterson West building, Benton said.

Reilly's attorneys spoke to reporters after Conway told WFPL radio and later WHAS11 that Morrison and Reilly bragged about recording McConnell's campaign meeting through a door vent at the headquarters.

"One of them was by the elevator and the other recorded it, was what was told to me," Conway told WHAS11.

"We completely disavow that version of events that Mr. Conway has allegedly put forward," Shouse said.

The secret recording has captivated Kentucky politics for two days.  It captured Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and senior staff discussing opposition research on actress Ashley Judd and other potential Democratic opponents.  Judd has since announced she is not running against McConnell.

"She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but (Judd) is emotionally unbalanced," a voice is heard on the recording.

McConnell and about ten staff members met at the campaign headquarters on February 2, about an hour and a half after an open house and rally for supporters at the headquarters.

A nearly 12 minute audio recording of that meeting was posted Tuesday morning on the Mother Jones site, a liberal publication that also posted a clandestinely recorded and controversial speech by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

On Tuesday, McConnell accused left wing political interests of a Watergate-like bugging of his campaign headquarters, suggesting that Progress Kentucky was behind the tape.

"I honestly don't think that they had any nefarious plot in mind," Conway said, "and it certainly wasn't any G. Gordon Liddy, Watergate plumbers creeps - as our senor senator from Kentucky who has a flair for the dramatic has pointed out."

"It should not be seen as a reflection of the Democratic Party or our candidates," Conway argued, "McConnell wants this to be a story to distract from his record."

Conway, who is no relation to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D), hinted that Reilly and Morrison may not have committed a crime if someone within the McConnell campaign had tipped them off about the campaign strategy meeting.

"That is absolutely false," said McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton, when apprised of Conway's comments.

 "WFPL's reports that left-wing activists illegally recorded a private meeting inside our campaign headquarters are very disturbing," Benton said.  "At this point, we understand that the FBI is immersed in an intensive criminal investigation and must defer any further comment to them."

"I hope that they just give them a slap on the wrists," Conway said.


So what are the laws relating to secretly recording conversations?   Kentucky law and federal law are in step. It’s illegal to record a conversation, if you're not part of the discussion or the people who are part of it don't realize you are there.  Attorney Steve Romines -- who is independent of this case says what happened in the case of the accused McConnell wire tappers appears to be against the law.

“They [the accused] clearly were not parties to the conversation, the conversation probably would not have occurred if they knew they were listening,” Romines said.

However he acknowledges Morrison and Rielly may be able to argue around the law, if they recorded a conversation they overheard from the hallway, as has been reported.

“You’re still not technically a party to the conversation but the argument that you would make is that they would have no reasonable expectation that whoever walked by was not a party to the conversation,” Romines said.

Attorneys for Rielly argue that he didn't make the recording, and he was just there.  Romines says that alone wouldn't make him guilty of a crime.

“You'd have to have an agreement to assist in the recording for him to be liable if he didn't actually make the recording”.