Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

McConnell Campaign on Ashley Judd: Was Secret Recording Legal?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

McConnell Campaign on Ashley Judd: Was Secret Recording Legal?

Article excerpt

Republicans are crying foul - and raising the memory of Watergate - over the release of an embarrassing secret recording of a strategy session for the reelection campaign of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky. Senator McConnell, the top Republican in the US Senate, was present at the meeting.

Audio from the Feb. 2 meeting, posted Tuesday on the liberal Mother Jones website, included discussion of (and laughter over) past comments and travails of actress Ashley Judd, who had considered running against McConnell but decided not to.

The McConnell campaign denies that anyone on its staff leaked the recording.

"Secret recordings, private conversations leaked, reports of bugs - these Watergate-era tactics have no place in our campaigns," Sen. Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement.

The McConnell campaign is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and has notified the US Attorney's office in Louisville about the matter, McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, told NBC News.

The incident brings to mind the secret video recording last year of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney talking about the "47 percent" - people who will vote for President Obama "no matter what" and are "dependent upon government" - also posted on the Mother Jones site. That video may have been the most damaging moment in Romney's campaign.

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But in legal terms, the McConnell recording is different. Mr. Romney was speaking at a fundraiser in Florida, and while it was a private event, he could reasonably expect that he might be recorded.

In McConnell's case, campaign staffers - and the senator himself - could have a reasonable expectation of privacy when meeting behind closed doors. So the making of the recording could be illegal.

Kentucky law states that a person is guilty of eavesdropping - a felony - "when he intentionally uses any device to eavesdrop, whether or not he is present at the time." Kentucky law defines the term "eavesdrop" as meaning "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 electronic, mechanical, or other device. …

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