Louisville U.S. Attorney David Hale recused himself from the investigation because he has been mentioned as a possible nominee for a federal judgeship that would require Senate approval, Politico reported Friday.
Politico said attempts to subpoena evidence from Curtis Morrison, who taped McConnell and his aides at a campaign meeting in February, likely would need approval of Attorney General Eric Holder, based on federal regulations that require Holder to approve subpoenas for journalists.
Morrison was a paid freelance-writer for Insider Louisville, an online news outlet, even as he was engaged in political activities to defeat McConnell.
The furor over Morrison's surreptitious taping began after an April article in Mother Jones magazine about the McConnell campaign meeting. Morrison, who worked for the liberal Progress Kentucky, admitted he taped the private conversations that included discussions of potential lines of attack against actress Ashley Judd, who was considering a run against McConnell.
Sources familiar with the case told Politico greater involvement by the Justice officials in Washington appears to have slowed what had been a quick-paced investigation, which a Justice Department official denied.
"The department is committed to a full, timely and appropriate resolution of this investigation," a Justice Department representative said. "No one from department headquarters has sought to interfere with the investigation or slow it down in any way. The recusal of the U.S. attorney in this matter has resulted in prosecutors from department headquarters being assigned to assist in the investigation, which is not uncommon in recusal situations."
At issue is whether Morrison violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a federal anti-eavesdropping law, sources knowledgeable about the case told Politico. That statute prohibits a person who uses an "electronic, mechanical or other device" from improperly recording "wire, oral or electronic communications."
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