[Promoted from the diaries by Chris. I was going to do a post linking to
Robin’s story, but then
I realized that she had already cross posted the whole thing here. Robin originally
posted this early Saturday morning. It’s a very weird story, so be sure to read
through the whole thing.]

I don’t know what happened in the Fitzpatrick (PA-08) campaign this morning
allowing a decision to be made that sent the congressman’s chief of staff, Mike
Conallen, dialing into a press conference call featuring Patrick Murphy and
Senator John Kerry with the apparent intention of derailing it.   You
may have read the story already.  I’ve
got the partial transcript of the call.

Writing as a grassroots activist, I have had a lot of experience with organizational
meetings that start with "Let’s stand on the sidewalk waving signs about
our issue at POLITICIAN X’s limo as it speeds into the event celebrating the
dedication of the community center" and end with "Okay, so we all
agree that hijacking the community center dedication would be a bad idea. 
How about we hold a press conference addressing our issue blah, blah, blah." 

Writing as a grassroots activist who has worked with Congressman Fitzpatrick’s
staff, I have some experience working directly with Mike Conallen.  Up
until this minute, I always considered him to be intimidating.   During
meetings or at events, Conallen was the guy who stayed quiet or out of the picture
entirely while Rep. Fitzpatrick’s District Director jumped around in the foreground
chattering about something meant to distract from the issue at hand.  The
congressman played the traditional role of the statesman/salesman.    

Writing as a blogger, who just listened to the audiofiles of Conallen’s appearance
on the press call Patrick Murphy had with Sen. John Kerry this morning, I can
say that we may be present at the  implosion of a campaign if not an entire
congressional staff. 

Frankly, I’m not even sure where to begin.   Conallen told the stunned
reporters that he acted alone this morning.  But at what point does a chief
of staff wake up and say to himself, "You know what would be a great idea? 
Tipping our panicked hand to the national press sure to be assembled on this
Murphy call with Sen. Kerry by calling in myself to ambush  Murphy and
confuse everyone else on the call in the process.  Yeah, that’s going to
be awesome!"   At what point does the chief of staff for a congressman
who has no plan
about what to do in Iraq beyond needing a "new
strategy for success"
  figure that he should be calling into a
press conference call devoted to Iraq policy and featuring not only an Iraq
war vet with an exit strategy but also a sitting member of the US Senate Foreign
Relations Committee
, who also happens to have  an
exit strategy
for Iraq.  I mean, there’s out of your league and then
there’s out of your mind. 

But thank the bloggy gods, reason did not prevail wherever this decision was
made and so we are treated to an absolute trainwreck of the sort of proportions
that political bloggers only dream about. 

I have the audio files but it will take me hours to figure out how to post
them here.  I’m going to have to go with a transcript instead.  Find
some nice circus music – or the soundtrack to Platoon – to listen to as you
read:

Conallen: This is Mike Conallen with the Fitzpatrick campaign? 
I have a question for Patrick Murphy.   Pat, the congressman has
invited you to a series of specific policy discussions including the War in
Iraq.  Why, why, won’t you, uh, agree, uh, to meet and discuss your five

Sen. Kerry:  Is this a member of the press asking a
question?

Conallen: different positions on the war in Iraq?

Murphy:  Mike, this is, uh, typical, because just yesterday
I hand delivered a letter saying that we already agreed to five debates and
we’ve already said that we’re going to do two more joint appearances before
an editorial board, and this is exactly what’s wrong with politics. 
Because you want to stretch the truth.  And I will stand there and 
I have agreed to at least three now and possibly even more …

Conallen: Why not agree to them right now?  Agree to
them now.   We’ll set them up and we’ll talk specifically about
Iraq and we’ll talk about your five different positions on the war.

Murphy:  Mike, again:  hand delivered letter,
certified, saying that we’ve agreed to these debates.  I will agree to
debate the congressman and we’ll …

Conallen:  Will you agree to a specific debate, um,
this month on your position, your five different positions on the war? 
 

(laughter)

Murphy:  Mike, I’ve already agreed to one.  Yes
I will and I look forward to doing it.   I think it’s important
to go back to what we just talked about earlier, uh, I just the other day,
I got a [unintelligible] I got an email from one of my students, one of my
cadets I taught at West Point, he’s now a captain over in Iraq and he said
to me, he said, "Sir, you’re absolutely right."  He’s like,
I’m over here and he offered, he said I can use his name but I don’t want
to do that because I don’t want to jeopardize him, put him in the middle of
a political debate here but he said to me, "You’re absolutely right. 
The Iraqis over here think we’re going to be here forever and until we turn
over the battle stations and until we articulate a timeline saying when we’re
going to do it, they think, they’re just going to stand on the sidelines and
wait until we go home." 

So we need leaders who are going to stand up, who will say, "This is
a timeline.  This is how we’re going to win the War on Terror. 
This is how to refocus our mission on how to win this war on terror and that’s
why I [unintelligible]  an opportunity to do so."

Sen. Kerry:  Obviously Patrick doesn’t need any defense
for himself but I find it kind of fascinating that members of the campaign
staff get on a press conference call and ask questions.  That’s sort
of a new tactic.

And it gets better or worse, if you’re Conallen.  I don’t know the specifics
but it seems as if Conallen stayed on the line with some of the media after
Murphy and Kerry left.  The de facto moderator was Stuart O’Neill, who
has a voice perfect for work at a mellow jazz station.  He never raised
his voice or sounded sarcastic.   I don’t know the women’s names and
I couldn’t always tell them apart.  I labeled them as best I could but
I may have erred:

O’Neill: This particular site offers long form interviews
to candidates so they can be widely known and get a chance to have an unedited
interview.  Um, so I really do try to take a view of candidates that
allows them to be more transparent.  Do you think it’s appropriate to
try to hijack a conference call that was specifically for press, that was
specifically for the endorsement of one person by another  – do you think
it’s appropriate to hijack that conference for your own partisan political
use? 

Conallen:  Um, I think it was appropriate to try to
get Patrick Murphy …

O’Neill: No.  You didn’t answer the question, sir.

Conallen:  I’m answering your question.  I do
think it’s appropriate to ask Patrick Murphy a question about whether …

O’Neill: Do you think, sir, that it was appropriate to hijack

Conallen.  Yes.

O’Neill: … a specifically scheduled conference, that was
closed to anyone but the press and use that for your own partisan political
purpose?

Conallen: Sir.  Can I answer the question?

O’Neill: Of course you can, if you answer it in an actual
answer, other than repeating your own political agenda. 

Conallen: Well, I don’t know what that means.

O’Neill: That means yes or no, sir.

Conallen:  The answer to my question was yes, I thought
it was appropriate because, uh, Patrick Murphy, uh, has, failed to publically
agree, uh, to discuss the issues most important to the Eighth Congressional
District.

Woman 1:  How about if you invite us all on, all on
to your next press conference?

O’Neill: Well, let’s not worry about that.  Let’s not
worry about  that.

Conallen:  You’re more than welcome to participate
in any press conference we have.

Ah, but who would be so stupid as to actually do that and show such contempt
for the press and the process?   Did you ever see that episode
of Cheers
when Diane, who at this point is working in a grocery store, poses
as a reporter at a press conference so she can ambush Sam’s new girlfriend,
who is a city councilwoman, with a personal question about their relationship? 
 When the councilwoman’s staff member asks her what paper she’s from, she’s
forced to say something like Peterson Markets’ Penny Shopper and Coupon Guide. 
 That’s the scene that ran through my head during this part of the call. 
Only Conallen can’t think as quickly as Diane.  The call continued:

O’Neill: I understand that, sir.  Thank you for that. 
What I perceive from this conference is that Mr. Murphy has already agreed
to five cons, has said send him a hw letter, he’ll agree to more.

Conallen: We’ve done that.

O’Neill: You keep harping as if he will not.  You have
hinted, you have intimated that this veteran of the service, you have intimated
many things in front of major press and in order to get your message out to
major press, which you may not be able to do in any other way … And I think
that, sir, as someone who’s been participating in the political process since
1966, up and down from the top to the bottom, I think that is, sir, 
not an appropriate tactic.  And I’m mentioning that as someone who has
been there and actually is involved in several campaigns now beyond my press
operation.

Conallen: Well, I certainly appreciate your view and experience
and, um you know, thanks for offering it.

Woman 2:  Who do you work for?

Conallen:  Uh, Fitzpatrick for Congress.

Woman 2:  No, the man who was asking you the question. 

O’Neill:  I have a site called Political
Interviews.com
.

Woman 2:  And what’s your name?

O’Neill:  Stuart O’Neill.

Man:  Mr. Conallen, how exactly did you get this number?

Conallen:  Ummmm .. how did I get the number? 
Uh, we, we, were calling press trying to get press to come to uh, um, another
event of ours and they told us that they were participating in this conference
call.

Woman 2:  So a reporter gave you this number?

Conallen:  Yeah.

O’Neill:  And invited you to the call?  Or did
you just take that …

Woman 2: From what?  From where?

Conallen: I’m not going to say which particular reporter
or outlet.  We got it from several places actually.    We were
doing  a press conference on some funding for Big Brothers/Big Sisters
uh, today and we were trying to generate some press coverage of that conference
and most of the local papers told us that they weren’t able to come because
they were covering this conference call.

(long pause)

O’Neill:  So are we finished?

Oh no, Mr. O’Neill.  We are most definitely not finished.  For some
reason known only to Mike Conallen, this goes on for six more minutes. 
 Apparently the rope wasn’t just long enough yet. 

Woman 1:  What is your official role with the camp?

Conallen:  Uh, I am an advisor.  I don’t have
an official title.

Woman 1:  Didn’t you just say that you’re Chief of
Staff?

Conallen:  I do.  I serve as his Chief of Staff.

Woman 1:  Okay, so you just flip-flopped there because
you said you didn’t have an official title but before you were the Chief of
Staff.

Conallen: With the Campaign,  I don’t have an official
title.  No, ma’am.

Woman 1: Oh, but you did say, because I wrote it down, that
I am Fitz’s Chi o S.

Conallen: Yeah, that’s on the official side, the congressional
office.

Woman 1:  Okay, so you are in his congressional office
as his cos but you don’t work for the PAC.

Conallen: The PAC?

O’Neill:  Or his, his campaign committee

Woman 1: His campaign committee.

Conallen:  I’m not paid by his campaign, no.

Woman 1: No, but you’re chief of staff in his congressional
office.

I’m going to interrupt here to defend this woman’s confusion a little bit. 
The line between what’s paid for by the campaign and what’s paid for by the
office – in other words, by you and me – is blurry enough to lose all meaning. 
 I’ve received five Fitzpatrick direct mailings in the last few weeks. 
Three I paid for, two the campaign paid for.  The only difference between
the two sets is that the two pieces paid for by the campaign are obvious hit
pieces attempting to position Murphy on the side of internet sex offenders and
communists.  The three we paid for are what people would doubtless consider
good, wholesome, positive campaign lit.   If I told them that no,
they were put out by the Congressional Office, whereas the attack ads were put
out by the Campaign, they’d tell me I had a distinction there without a difference
and they’d be right.   And, since what Conallen did during the call
was an attack, anyone would be right to assume that he was a campaign operative. 
The call continues:

Woman 2:  So have you been doing this phone call on
congressional time?

Conallen: Nope!  This is my own personal time.

O’Neill: Oh, you took the day off.

Woman 2:  So, you took the day off?

Conallen:  Yep!  I’m actually in my  house
right now. 

Which means nothing.  I work from home.  I’m in my house twenty-three
hours a day.

O’Neill: So you took the day off to have a campaign event
for the candidate and made sure that you were at your house promoting that
same thing – or the campa office – promoting that same event while you were
still on the federal payroll – even though you took the day off – while you
were still on the federal payroll and simply exempted yourself from pay this
particular day by taking a personal day.  Do I get that correctly?

Conallen:  I don’t know what that means.

Woman 1:  Oh, please.

Woman 2:  I think he wants to know, did you take a
personal day?  A sick day?  What did you take?  A vacation
day?

Conallen: This is a vacation day.

Woman 2:  So you’re getting paid for your vacation
day.

Conallen:  Yeah, most people do. 

Me again.  Here’s some
reality
for Mr. Conallen from Planet Working Class America:  In
fact, 25.5 million private-sector workers in the United States do not have paid
holidays and 22.2 million private-sector workers have no paid vacation, according
to a survey of benefits by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

We now return you to Fantasyland, sponsored by the GOP:

Woman 1:  Yeah, yeah, you’re getting paid for your
vacation day and you’re on congressional staff and you’re not supposed to
be campaigning.

Conallen:  We’re allowed to campaign on our own personal
time.

Oh, jeebus.  I almost feel sorry for him.

Woman:  Not when you’re getting paid for a vacation
day.

Conallen:  (stammering about being able to do what
he’s doing)

Stuart O’Neill:  Well, let’s not, you know.  I
think probably there’s an issue there that could check with the ethics office
with because I think there’s a possibility that collecting federal vacation
day money and campaigning at the same time could be an issue but I’m no expert. 
 Uh, but it’s interesting to me – I just can’t get over the fact that
you would call into a private press call as a non-press person and use it
to confront a candidate.  It’s a tactic I have not seen on teleconferences
previously. 

That one so surprises me and now we’re on to a whole new teleconference uh,
with the original participants gone, um, and the original organizers gone. 
This is a very surprising turn of events for me, sir.  I just don’t get
it.  I don’t get why you would do that when it would be easy enough to
call up your local papers and send out a press conference and send out a well-constructed
uh, uh, news release or news advisory there and then hold your own press conference
on the same issue and get lots of local coverage. Do you perceive that you’re
gonna get lots of local coverage off this with one paper that spoke up?

Conallen:  No, I, wuh, our goal here was to try to
get the candidate Patrick Murphy to agree to a series of policy discussions
so that we can inform the voters of both candidate’s positions on the issues.

Can you smell the blood in the water?  If you can’t read that answer again.

O’Neill:  Seems to me that you did.

Conallen:  Yeah, I know, that, so, you know, that was
a, that was a, that was a good turn of events.

O’Neill:  Seems to me, according to him, he had done
that previously.

Conallen: Well, as I said, what he mentioned was previously
agreed to trad uh, um, camp debates

O’Neill: Which is where you bring up, sir, which is where
you bring up specific campaign issues and you make sure the campaign format,
which I’m sure both sides would agree to, which is lengthy enough so that
people can talk.  You only have two candidates in the race, you don’t
have forty-five.

Conallen: Right. Well, we thought that these issues were
important enough to have further discussion.  So.  Alright! … 

"Alright!" the telephoner’s universal cry for help when the conversation
has gone on long enough – or in Conallen’s case way, way, way too long. 
And it’s about to go longer.

Woman 2: Is Congressman Fitzpatrick aware of you calling
in?

Conallen:  Uhhh, I don’t know if he is or not. 
I never talked to him about it. 

Woman 2: So you just, as his CoS, you just came up with
this on your own?

Conallen: Yeah.

Woman 3: Did you request permission from the campaign manager?

Conallen: Uh, no.

Woman 2:
Is anybody on the staffing of the campaign aware of you
being on this call?

Conallen: Uh, no.

O’Neill: And yet you’ve got national press listening to
you?

That wouldn’t have been my question.  I would have asked to whom he was
referring when he said "…  our goal here was to try to get the candidate
Patrick Murphy to agree to a series of policy discussions…"

Conallen: Um.

Woman 2:  But nobody at the campaign knows what you’re
doing?

Conallen:  Uh, I didn’t talk, I don’t think I talked
to anybody on the campaign.

There’s the Mike I know!  "I don’t think I talked to anyone on the
campaign."  Now he’s talking like one of those trial attorneys Fitzpatrick
hates so much.

Man: Is there any way to know that you’re actually at your
house and not calling from [unintelligible]

Conallen: (laughs)  Well, I mean ..

O’Neill:  I’m sorry, we couldn’t hear that.

Woman 2:  Is there any way to know that you’re calling
from your house instead [unintelligible] from your congressional office or
a federally paid for resource?

Conallen:  What do you want me to give you my address
and send someone over here to see that I’m in my house?

Woman 2: No, I believe the question out there was is there
any way to know that, to verify that, could you offer any means of
verification?

O’Neill: Perhaps to one of the major media outlets who could
share it with other people and you could do that in email or something.

Woman 4: Is anybody still on from Murphy’s office?

Conallen: How would I do that?   I don’t think
so.   

So why in the name of heaven is he still on?  The master plan that he
alone devised and yet had a shared goal has officially fallen apart.   

Conallen: How would want me to do that?

O’Neill:  Well, get a statement from your candidate.

Woman 2: Well, I think it’s up to you.

Conallen:  A statement from me that I’m in my house?

O’Neill: No a statement from your candidate that this was
an authorized activity and that you were, in fact, operating on non-federal
time.

The Dems have released a statement:

FITZPATRICK SENDS CHIEF OF STAFF TO DISRUPT PATRICK MURPHY CONFERENCE
CALL

HARRISBURG: Today, Pennsylvania Democrats called on Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick
(R-PA) to explain the inappropriate actions of his taxpayer-paid Chief of
Staff, Mike Conallen.

On a conference call with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Patrick Murphy this
morning that focused on the issues of terrorism and Iraq,Conallen dialed
in to the conference call and confronted Murphy.

“Mike Fitzpatrick clearly doesn’t think terrorism and the security of Pennsylvania
families are issues that deserve respect,” said Don Morabito, Executive
Director of the PA Democratic Party. “While, Patrick Murphy and John Kerry
– two veterans – were having a serious conversation about terrorism and
the war in Iraq with media, Fitzpatrick sent his Chief of Staff to disrupt
the call and play a partisan political game.

“Pennsylvania families deserve better than Fitzpatrick’s dirty political
games and he owes an apology to the people of his district.”

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party asked Fitzpatrick to answer the following
questions:

  1. Did you approve of and do you condone the campaign disruption
    by your taxpayer-paid Chief of Staff during official working hours?

  2. Will you and your Chief of Staff apologize to the people of
    Pennsylvania for making the issues of terrorism and the war in Iraq into
    a political game?

  3. Will you pay back the cost of the long distance phone call
    and the taxpayer time spent by Mike Conallen? If not, will you ask him
    to?

“This is exactly the kind of pure partisan nonsense that voters are tired
of,” Morabito said. “Unfortunately, it’s all too consistent with Republican
tactics that are too common today.”

Good questions.  Congressman Fitzpatrick has open office hours tomorrow. 
I’ll be there on business unrelated to this disaster.  PA Action is going
to try for the third time in two weeks to get the congressman to clarify his
position on Medicare Part D, something he just refuses to do.   We
sent out press advisories about our impending visit but I despaired of getting
any press to show up until now.   Now I’m thinking that we have a
chance of seeing one or two hanging around in the hopes that Mike Conallen’s
vacation is over.

cross-posted at dKos,
My DD

UPDATE: Above Average Jane has the follow-up where Rep. Fitzpatrick says he’s proud of his Chief of Staff. No word yet on what Conallen meant when he said, “No, I, wuh, our goal here was to try to get the candidate Patrick Murphy to agree to a series of policy discussions …”

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