Activist details McConnell recording, says he faces grand jury probe

One of the two men accused of surreptitiously recording a private conversation at the campaign office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says a grand jury is probing the incident. He freely admits participating in the recording.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate chamber in the US Capitol on Dec. 30, 2012. PHOTO/Molly RILEYMOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)

"Here’s the latest: An assistant U.S. attorney, Bryan Calhoun, telephoned my attorney yesterday, asking to meet with him next Friday as charges against me are being presented to a grand jury," writes liberal activist Curtis Morrison in a lengthy piece published Friday on Salon.com.

Morrison recounts in detail his decision to record the conversation and leak it, and says he would do it again if given the chance. He writes that his personal life was "upended" by the episode, and that he subsequently resorted to heavy alcohol consumption and living in his car.

"Earlier this year, I secretly made an audio recording of Sen. Mitch McConnell, the most powerful Republican on the planet, at his campaign headquarters in Kentucky. The released portion of the recording clocks in at less than 12 minutes, but those few minutes changed my life," he writes.

In early April, Mother Jones published a 12-minute audio recording of a campaign meeting in which McConnell and his campaign staff lampoon Ashley Judd, the actress who at the time the audio was published had ruled herself out as a McConnell opponent.

Not long after, Democrat Jacob Conway told Louisville NPR affiliate WFPL that Morrison and another man had boasted about recording the tape from a hallway outside the office where the meeting was taking place.

A spokeswoman for the FBI said in April it was "looking into the matter." Reached Friday, the U.S. Attorney's office in Louisville said it did not have any further comment.

Morrison, an activist and former freelancer for an online news Web site, says he received a tip from a reader in February about the location of McConnell's campaign launch and meeting, and headed over to check it out.

"The front door to the office building was unlocked, and there was no one behind the reception desk," writes Morrison. "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."

Morrison says his "heart was racing" throughout the process. "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," he adds.

Morrison resigned as spokesman of the liberal super PAC Progress Kentucky. Shawn Reilly, Progress Kentucky's executive director, accompanied Morrison during his recording at McConnell's office, according to Morrison's account. Reilly has said through a lawyer that he was only a witness to the recording. Progress Kentucky had previously come under criticism for racially insensitive tweets about McConnell's wife.

The relationship between the two men deteriorated after the recording, Morrison says, and so did his personal life, as he lived out of his car and took to heavy drinking.

"Shawn never wanted me to release the recording, and our friendship ended in the wake of that disagreement. I was renting a room from his sister-in-law at that time, and to avoid awkwardness, I put my stuff in storage and lived mostly in my Jeep," Morrison writes.

When Rep. John Yarmuth (D) -- who Morrison called one of his "personal heroes" -- criticized his efforts, it deeply troubled the activist, he says.

"Unlike Mitch McConnell, I will not paint myself as a victim. I’ve learned a lot in these weeks. But nothing stung like hearing Yarmuth brush me aside like that. I was so upset that all I could do is go for a long run. Frankly, I had a good cry," he writes.

Morrison says he does not "personally dislike" McConnell, but believes the Republican "failed Kentucky." He says going through with it all was "worth it."

The activist has moved to California, he says, where he plans to attend law school.

McConnell's office said Friday it was deferring to authorities on the entire matter. "We defer entirely to the FBI and the United States Attorney's Office in Louisville on this criminal matter," said McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer in an e-mail.

Updated at 3:45 p.m. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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