In early June, right wing bloggers were having a field day blathering about what they claimed was an “illegal recording” which I had made of a conversation with a right wing operative named Jason Wade Taylor (JWT) aka Randy Hahn, @farRightOfLeft, et al), now made infamous by Matt Osborne’s several articles about him. The recording in question was passed to JWT by two women who were conned into thinking he was a rich progressive philanthropist from Texas. They were led to think that if they helped him, it would result in funding or other assistance for their advocacy efforts. Neither of them have ever publicly confirmed or denied these charges. But my purpose here is not to speculate about why that is, nor rehash any of the broader details again, but only to set the record straight with these three key points about this purported “illegal phone recording.”
1. Recording this scoundrel was necessary
What I did was a simple “sting,” or “scam baiting,” in law enforcement parlance. I pretended to believe a con man’s lies so I could lure him into exposing those lies to our associates in the the #stopRush effort, the progressive community, and possibly law enforcement. JWT was extracting personal, financial, and strategic information under false pretenses. His targets included me, Matt Osborne (@OsborneInk), Julie Sigwart (@jsigwart), and other #stoprush volunteers. Moreover, by this time JWT had extended his contacts throughout the progressive Twittersphere, turning him into a more general threat. That community lacked any hard information to guard itself against his maneuverings and I needed to gather some.
In the recording, any reasonable listener could hear me trying to get JWT to admit his role in several mysterious fake Twitter accounts, and his many false postures, pretenses, and credentials. That was the sole purpose of recording the call. It was our only way of documenting his lies, because he never put much in writing. Today, most people know JWT was and is a fraud, but back in that day, while we suspected it, we couldn’t prove it. The purpose of the recording was to do that. Period.
2. The recording was completely legal
According to Florida Supreme Court, my recording of the call was entirely legal. JWT was not a Florida resident, and the point of interception was not within the state of Florida (as defined by Florida statute, originally crafted for ordinary wiretaps,and then expanded rather imperfectly, “interception” takes place only where the words are uttered, and not where they are received). Source
Even though I’d quickly learned that the opinions of illegality being offered by several people were flat-out wrong, and my first reading of Florida law had been correct, I decided to not speak about the recording at all and see what came of all the noise and tree shaking. Once JWT and several right wing bloggers had worked themselves into a comical lather over it, new information (and informants) started pouring in from many quarters, and I just decided to let it all pile up until I could decide what outcome I wanted to see come from all of this.
Meanwhile, I quietly consulted with media and communications lawyers who assured me that my actions were perfectly legal, no matter how many ridiculous assertions and opinions were being spewed to the contrary out there on the Internet
3. What may not have been legal was this:
The women and JWT both distributed and/or published recordings they did not own, and had no right to transmit to others in any form. The recording was my property, and in some applicable states, the distribution—and certainly the publication—of confidential communications without the consent of the parties is a crime—even a felony.
The #StopRush effort still goes on, but over 1500 volunteers were harmed by this pointless and unnecessary drama caused by a combination of a con-man’s machinations, false assumptions, rash actions, and self interest. I still receive threats from him like this one (and worse), either directly, or via numerous Skype-calls he's placed to my 85 year old mother.
Whether anything else comes of this sad drama of dishonesty, manipulation, greed, and betrayal, the fact remains that I never made any “illegal recordings.” The larger teaching moment for me, and anyone else involved is simply this: be wary of whom you invest your trust, especially the ones who call you “friend.”