Miller was removed "because he was party to a conversation that is being investigated by the Ethics Committee. It is not appropriate for Mr. Miller to remain on the committee," a spokeswoman for Speaker Karen Bass told the Capitol Weekly.
Ethics committee sources have already floated the possibility that the probe could expand to look at other lawmakers' relationships with lobbyists.
In the videotaped conversation, Miller says little, but chuckles a few times. At one point, when Duvall informs Miller that he enjoys spanking his mistress, Miller asks if she enjoys it too.
It seems logical to ensure that one party to a conversation isn't tasked with investigating that same conversation. But the plot thickens from there.
According to the Capitol Weekly:
Shortly after the July 8 hearing ended, Miller's office asked the Rules Committee for a copy of the recording.
That raises the suggestion that Miller himself may have tipped the local news station that broke the story, KCAL, to Duvall's comments.
The Orange County Register picks up on that notion in a blog post, noting that "the Capitol buzz and some evidence points to Orange County Assemblyman Jeff Miller and Republican Party insider and OC blogger Jon Fleischman."
The OCR notes that in KCAL's report, Miller's face is obscured "to protect our sources." In fact, it says, some people think Miller may have engineered the whole incident: "Many in the Capitol speculate that Miller reached over and turned on Duvall's microphone while they were chatting."
And here's something else that we noticed in reviewing a different version of the video on the OCR's site. (The video has always been available online through the public access network that broadcasts the hearings -- but it's clear that no one would have noticed the comments, which are barely audible, without being alerted to their existence): Just as Duvall is talking about his first mistress -- who's been identified in press accounts as lobbyist Heidi DeJong Barsuglia -- Miller asks: "Is there someone else?" That prompts Duvall to launch into a description of his second mistress, "Shar" or "Sher." It's a strange place in the conversation for Miller to ask that question.
As for Fleischman, he's a California GOP operative who runs an insidery political blog called the FlashReport. OCR notes:
On Tuesday night, shortly after the KCAL-TV and OC Weekly reports broke, the Flash Report sent out an e-mail alerting readers to the scandal. For a blog that's often updated late in the morning, it was uncharacteristically on the ball, almost as though Fleischman knew the stories were coming.
The Capitol Weekly points out that the FlashReport had the story up "within minutes" of KCAL's report. And Fleischman admits he's not friendly with Duvall.
There's even a link between Miller and Fleischman. Miller's chief of staff, Brandon Powers, used to write for the FlashReport.
Still, both Miller and Fleischman deny that they were responsible for the leak. Powers told the OCR that the office routinely requests copies of every hearing Miller is involved in. And Fleischman told the paper he'd have liked to break the story himself. "I wish I had had the information because that would be great information to have," he said.
Speculation hasn't focused on Democrats, largely because Duvall represented a reliably Republican district.
More to come on this, it seems clear.
Late Update: We missed this before, but the Sacramento Bee has reported that Miller is claiming he "wasn't paying attention" to Duvall's lewd boasting.
"Anybody who knows Mike knows that he tells lots of stories," Miller told the Bee.
"I wasn't listening," Miller continued. "Normally on committee, in that committee, he's in my ear most of the time anyway about something. ... I really wasn't paying attention at the time, so it didn't register. I was more trying to get my mind ready for committee and trying to get ready for the work I had to do."
As we noted, Miller asks Duvall at one point whether he has other girlfriends, and also responds to Duvall's claim that he likes spanking one girlfriend by asking whether she enjoys it too. All of which makes the "I wasn't paying attention" defense sort of implausible.
Miller also denied directly to the Bee that he had tipped off the media: "Absolutely not. I've known Mike for a long time, and I would do nothing to hurt him in that manner," he said.