Politics & Government

Liberal activist admits secretly recording McConnell, says he'd do it again

FRANKFORT — Curtis Morrison, co-founder of a liberal political action committee known as Progress Kentucky, admitted Friday to secretly making an audio recording of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and his campaign staff at the senator's Louisville campaign headquarters.

Morrison, writing a first-person account of the Feb. 2 recording for news website Salon, said the recording has changed his life but that he would do it again. He also said charges against him are to be presented to a federal grand jury next Friday in Louisville.

"I believe all opportunities come with risk, and knowing them in advance allows you to accept the consequences," Morrison wrote. "So I took a risk on Groundhog Day. I stuck my head up to try to raise the general public's awareness about what the most powerful Republican on the planet is really like. If I get whacked in the process, so be it."

In the recording, McConnell campaign aides discussed actress Ashley Judd's mental health and religious beliefs as possible points of political attack. At the time, Judd was considering running against McConnell in 2014. She has since decided not to enter the race.

"At the very least, I hope people will see that McConnell is not what he purports to be," Morrison wrote. "He wants you to think he is sound and moral, but he is neither. He wants you to think he's a statesman and a leader, but he is a moral coward."

McConnell, who is seeking re-election next year, asked the FBI to investigate the secret recording. His spokesman, Robert Steurer, had nothing to say Friday about the Morrison article.

"We defer entirely to the FBI and the United States Attorney's Office in Louisville on this matter," Steurer said.

Shawn Reilly, the executive director of Progress Kentucky whom Morrison said was with him at the recording, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. Reilly's attorney, Ted Shouse of Louisville, said they had no comment on Morrison's article or any possible grand jury meeting next week.

Stephanie Collins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Louisville, said the FBI has confirmed it is investigating the recording but has no other comment.

Morrison, in his article, said he leaked the recording to the publication Mother Jones.

Morrison said he wasn't surprised that McConnell was "quick to frame himself as the victim of a crime," but that "the pushback from my own political side" came as an unexpected shock.

"One day in April, I turned on MSNBC and saw U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat, from Louisville and one of my personal heroes, rip me a new one," Morrison wrote. "'These are like petty thieves,' Yarmuth said, referring to me and my friend, Shawn Reilly, who had accompanied me as I made the recording. 'They're an embarrassment to the system. They're an embarrassment to politics.'"

Morrison, a blogger since 2009, said he has lost his friendship with Reilly, his apartment, his job and his career path.

Morrison said he learned about McConnell's Feb. 2 campaign launch in late January through a tip from one of his blog's readers.

"The front door to the office building was unlocked, and there was no one behind the reception desk," Morrison said. "Walking down the hall of the second floor, I recognized McConnell's voice. He was talking about Sen. Rand Paul's strategic use of the Tea Party in procuring his 2010 election.

"The voices were coming from the other side of a nearby door, which had a window. I pulled out my Flip camera and started to record."

Morrison said he did not know at the time exactly what he had captured on tape. But he later listened to it and heard a research presenter suggest that McConnell "may have used his legislative aides to gather the dirt on Judd."

Morrison said he first thought about releasing the tape that day but wondered if its impact might be greater closer to the election. He opted to release it in late March.

Since then, Morrison, 44, said, his personal life has "hit a wall." He said he now lives in California and plans to attend Whittier Law School in that state in the fall.

Morrison said he has "never doubted that making the recording was ethical.

"As for whether my actions were illegal?" Morrison said. "I don't believe so."

He acknowledged he "could still be prosecuted."

"And wouldn't that be smart?" Morrison said. "Here we are — the sequester in full tilt, special-education teachers and air traffic controllers are being laid off, funding for medical research is being cut — and let's funnel those savings into taking down that destitute guy with the Flip camera."

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