Mother Jones, the liberal magazine that somehow obtained audio of a private Mitch McConnell campaign meeting, now wonders whether the top Republican in the Senate is breaking the law. The direct accusation is that Senate staffers did work to help McConnell's reelection, which if done on official time, could be a violation of the law.

"Did Mitch McConnell Use Senate Employees for Oppo Research on Ashley Judd?," a headline on the magazine's website reads.

The story begins:

A secret recording of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and aides discussing in February how they might attack actor/activist Ashley Judd, then a potential 2014 challenger to McConnell, attracted widespread attention after Mother Jones published it Tuesday morning. Much of the news coverage focused on the McConnell team's comments about Judd's religious views and her mental-health history. But the tape might raise ethics questions for McConnell and his staff.

Senate ethics rules prohibit Senate employees from participating in political activities while on government time. But the tape indicates that several of McConnell's legislative aides, whose salaries are paid by the taxpayer, were involved with producing the oppo research on Judd that was discussed at the February 2 meeting.

The key quotation from the "secret tape" is an unnamed campaign official saying this, according to Mother Jones's transcription:

"So I'll just preface my comments that this reflects the work of a lot of folks: Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, a lot of LAs, thank them three times, so this is a compilation of work, all the way through. The first person we'll focus on, Ashley Judd—basically I refer to her as sort of the oppo research situation where there's a haystack of needles, just because truly, there's such a wealth of material."

The magazine explains the legal issue, "The question is whether Maxson and the other McConnell LAs were digging up material on Judd while on government time. If they were engaged in this research while on annual leave or vacation—or working outside Senate hours—they wouldn't be violating Senate rules."

(LAs stands for legislative assistants, a position in Senate offices.)

But listen to the audio a few more times:

The campaign hand isn't saying, "thank them three times"--a phrase not really used in the English language. But instead it actually sounds like he's explicitly saying that the LAs did not break the law. It sounds, to me at least, that the unnamed presenter is saying the LAs worked toward the reelection campaign "in their free time," which as Mother Jones notes, would be perfectly legal.

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