The Media Are Missing the McConnell Taping Story

No one seems to care – McConnell excepted – that the taping is potentially illegal.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listens to questions at a news conference following a GOP strategy session at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 11, 2012. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is at right.

Somewhere, somehow everything got turned around. A major U.S. political leader is victimized by a leak to the press of the audio from a surreptitiously taped campaign strategy meeting. And what has people upset? Not the taping, no. They wring their hands over what the official and his campaign aides are overheard saying on the tape.

As most people have by now heard, the leftwing Mother Jones magazine recently published a story detailing what was said by Kentucky GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell and unidentified senior aides during the meeting, which focused on how his upcoming re-election campaign would deal with potential challengers.

No one seems to care – McConnell excepted – that bugging is illegal. Whether the tape was made through the use of a hidden tape recorder or some other kind of electronic device or by using a more traditional kind of hidden microphone, it is illegal under Kentucky law to record conversations without the consent of the participants.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Giving the tape to the press was supposed to be a knockout punch. Reporters and commentators are outraged that, according to what can be heard, the McConnell camp would even consider that one potential challenger's history of treatment for depression might be an issue in the campaign. The idea that the taping itself is a potentially illegal act does not seem to bother them too much.

Flash back several years, to a time when the GOP had control of the White House and the U.S. Senate. A time when a former senior aide to the Republican leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee found he could access documents written by the Democratic minority staff concerning the treatment of upcoming judicial nominees.

The documents, which were supposed to be secret, were left unprotected on a common server and could be found if one knew where to look. While not quite in plain sight, they also weren't securely stored. Once news of what the GOP Senate aide had done became public, he became a pariah. His reputation was destroyed and he ultimately lost his job.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

From the way the issue was debated, one would have thought he gave atomic secrets to the Russians at the height of the Cold War instead of finding, reading and sharing something he wasn't supposed to have, strictly speaking, but broke no laws to obtain. Instead, he took advantage of the carelessness of others.

Richard Nixon resigned from office to avoid impeachment over issues that began when operatives associated with his re-election committee were apprehended while attempting to install bugging devices in the offices of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate. Though serious crimes were eventually uncovered, the initial investigations began because of the bugging, a political sabotage operation.

McConnell was right to call in the FBI to investigate. What was done to him, and for that matter to former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney – videotaped furtively by a member of the catering staff working a Palm Beach, Florida fundraiser uttering his now infamous comment about "the 47 percent" – admittedly does not rise to the level of official corruption that Watergate has come to represent. Nevertheless, to overlook it by trying instead to draw attention to what McConnell and his aides may have said is to condone a potentially criminal act that should not be tolerated let alone celebrated.

UPDATE:  A Democratic official in Kentucky has said that members of the liberal super PAC Progress Kentucky are responsible for the taping, according to Kentucky's WFPL. The official, Jacob Conway, said "I did not want their bad behavior, their poor mistakes -- I shouldn't say 'bad behavior' -- their mistakes, their lack of judgment to hurt our party's efforts here in the state of Kentucky and in Jefferson County, here in Louisville." 

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