I Secretly Recorded Mitch McConnell, And Now the FBI is After Me
Photo Credit: Curtis Morrison
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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.
I leaked the recording to Mother Jones, which published it with a transcript and analysis in April, and over the days that followed, blogs and cable news shows lit up with the revelations from that one meeting. At the time, McConnell was prepping for a race against the actress Ashley Judd — it was “the Whac-a-Mole stage of the campaign,” McConnell said smugly — and the recording captures his team in some Grade-A jackassery, including plans to use Judd’s history of depression against her.
But also up for debate was the the ethics of the audio recording itself. Here’s the latest: An assistant U.S. attorney, Brian Calhoun, telephoned my attorney yesterday, asking to meet with him next Friday as charges against me are being presented to a grand jury.
In a technology age marked by vigilante heroes like Julian Assange and Anonymous, the line between journalism and espionage has grown thin. McConnell was quick to frame himself as the victim of a crime, which was to be expected. It was the guilty repositioning of a politician who has been caught being craven.
What I never expected was the pushback from my own political side. 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:
“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.”
In the days that following the audio leak, I lost my friendship with Shawn. I lost my apartment. I lost my job and my career path.
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. And as I pounded away the stress and frustration of that moment, I had to wonder: Did I make a mistake?
I’m a liberal activist in Kentucky. I’m also a citizen journalist — at least I used to be — because I don’t subscribe to the lie that activism and journalism can be separated. Howard Zinn wrote,“You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” That’s how I see it: Journalism is a moving train, and we all choose which perspectives to bring along on the ride. Needless to say, journalists tend not to like me.
Since 2009, I’ve run a blog that hoped to fill a narrow void in Kentucky media by covering a ridiculous amount of public meetings, civil disobedience actions and political events, where I’m often the only person who shows up with a tripod. My blog’s YouTube channel has more than 100 videos. I started it because I have a long-standing interest in improving the collective knowledge of Kentuckians. The more informed we are, the better decisions we make. But I have other interests as well. One of my goals is to unseat Mitch McConnell.
I don’t personally dislike McConnell, but I believe he has failed Kentucky. He has prioritized his personal agenda du jour over the needs of Kentuckians for more than three decades of his so-called public service. It took the two years leading up to the 2012 election — during which his only aim was to sabotage President Barack Obama — for a wider audience to catch on to his disgraceful behavior. To hell with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, to hell with the country.