In it, but not of it. TPM DC
According to Sonka, when he RSVPed to the event early on Monday the McConnell campaign replied that he would not be able to come because there was limited space.
"Which is the second time they've done that," Sonka told TPM. At the last event, which took place in February, Sonka was able to attend after just showing up. But this time, according to Sonka, he was not allowed in.
When Sonka got to the campaign event McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton told Sonka he wasn't allowed at the event. Sonka pointed out that he was told it was a space issue, but he also said there was clearly room at the event at the Hilton Garden Inn. Benton, according to Sonka, said that space wasn't the issue. According to a person in the room who overheard their conversation, Benton said that other reporters asked him to not be allowed in the event. The person said that seemed very doubtful and that there was clearly plenty of space for Sonka.
"He goes 'how about this, how about we let you in there but you can't ask any questions,'" Sonka said of his interaction with Benton. According to Sonka he asked Benton if other reporters at the event (which included both local and national reporters) would be able to ask questions. Benton said they would but that Sonka would not be allowed to ask any questions.
"And I was like, why can't I?' And he goes 'well, just because,'" Sonka said. Sonka then said he pressed Benton on why he wasn't allowed in and Benton refused to answer his questions.
TPM reached out to Benton for comment but the campaign manager did not respond to multiple emails. According to McConnell's campaign, the press conference was a private event for select members of the media.
"Mr. Sonka was not invited, and was therefore asked to leave," McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said Monday evening. "When he refused, the matter was turned over to the hotel staff who followed their internal protocol."
At one point, according to Sonka, Benton said if Sonka kept asking questions Benton would call the police.
When the event started Sonka and other reporters walked in but a Louisville police officer stopped Sonka and said he would not be allowed in. The other person who was in the room confirmed that a police officer said he was not allowed in. Sonka said he asked why.
"He said 'well, McConnell's people told the hotel people to tell me to not let you in,'" Sonka said. "So I decided not to go to jail. I didn't want to get into a wrestling match with a police officer, that seemed a little silly. So I sat in the lobby. I was just sitting there alone and then some people came up and whispered to that police officer and he came up to me and said you can't sit in that lobby either, you have to move down to the end of the hall of the hotel or we'll arrest you.'"
Journalist Joe Gerth tweeted that he asked McConnell (who Gerth referred to as MM in the tweet) about Sonka being barred from the event.
@joesonka not allowed in @Team_Mitch presser. Asked why, MM said "I don't know."
— Joe Gerth (@Joe_Gerth) March 17, 2014
TPM asked Sonka why he thought he was not allowed into the event when other reporters (including ones that haven't always written flattering things about the campaign) were allowed in.
"Well, they didn't tell me but I guess they were afraid I might ask a question that might be difficult. That's the only thing I can think of," Sonka said. He noted that he hasn't been able to ask a question of McConnell since July.
Sonka acknowledged that he's written a lot of things about the McConnell campaign that they probably wouldn't like.
"That's what I assume it was," Sonka said. "They just didn't want me in there."
Later on in the afternoon McConnell campaign adviser Josh Holmes seemed to referred to Sonka as a "liberal activist."
Media at work folks: Attend #KYSEN open press event, ask about #McConnelling, go home and tweet about a lib activist who wasn't invited
— Josh Holmes (@HolmesJosh) March 17, 2014
A staffer for Matt Bevin, McConnell's challenger in the Republican primary, said this wouldn't happen at an event for Bevin.
.@joesonka @MattBevin will never call the police on you #FreeSonka #kysen #FreeKY cc: @Joe_Gerth
— Rachel Semmel (@rachelsemmel) March 17, 2014
Sahil Kapur contributed.