April 9th, 2013
10:08 AM ET
1 year ago

McConnell campaign calls in FBI over secret recordings

(CNN) – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's re-election campaign is "working with the FBI" on how Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, obtained a recording of political aides meeting with McConnell and discussing opposition research on Ashley Judd, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton told CNN Tuesday.

In the recordings, political operatives huddling at the senator's campaign headquarters in Kentucky, are heard discussing potentially attacking Judd's mental health, as well as her left-leaning politics, if she had decided to make a bid against McConnell, who's running for a sixth term in office next year.

"Obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Senator McConnell's campaign office without consent. By whom and how that was accomplished will presumably be the subject of a criminal investigation," Benton said in a statement.

"We've always said the Left will stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters is above and beyond," Benton also said.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson confirmed the investigation.

“We can confirm that Sen. McConnell’s office reported it and we are looking into the matter," Bresson said.

Judd mulled a decision to jump into the race but announced late last month she would not pursue a Senate bid "at this time," deciding to focus on her family instead.

It's common for political campaigns to plot their offensives, and the secretly-recorded audio of the February meeting gives a glimpse of how McConnell's campaign might have pursued their attack strategy if Judd became a candidate.

"She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced," one staff member said in the tape. Mother Jones did not disclose exactly how it obtained the audio. "I mean it's been documented. Jesse can go in chapter and verse from her autobiography about, you know, she's suffered some suicidal tendencies. She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the '90s."

Judd has been public about her struggles and tension within her family, which includes her country legend mom, Naomi Judd, and her sister, Wynonna. She has openly described herself as a three-time survivor of rape and wrote in her autobiography about her troubled past growing up around drugs, alcohol and divorce.

Her website talks about her 2006 decision to enter an "intensive in patient treatment program" at Shades of Hope, a rehabilitation center in Texas, for "unresolved childhood grief that manifest as depression and codependency."

Responding to the recent news, a spokesman for Judd described the meeting as "another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington DC."

"We expected nothing less from Mitch McConnell and his camp than to take a personal struggle such as depression, which many Americans cope with on a daily basis, and turn it into a laughing matter," the spokesman said in a statement.

At the McConnell meeting, staff members and advisers mocked some of Judd's previous writings and statements. While they touched on Judd's emotional history, the meeting mostly focused on her political views as their would-be ammunition. They highlighted her support and campaigning for President Barack Obama, as well as her support for same-sex marriage and cap-and-trade policies. In the meeting, they described her as "anti-coal," which would be a big liability for Judd in coal country.

Asked about the story on Capitol Hill Tuesday, McConnell repeatedly pointed to attacks on his wife's ethnicity in February by a liberal group, Progress Kentucky. The group apologized for the comments.

"As you know last month my wife's ethnicity was attacked by a left wing group in KY, then apparently they also bugged my HQ. I think that pretty well sums up the political left in Kentucky," McConnell said, though it was not clear if he was specifically blaming Progress Kentucky for the secret recordings. He also described it as a "Nixonian move."

McConnell declined to comment on the strategy session when pressed further by reporters.

David Corn, the author of the Mother Jones piece, wrote the tape was provided by a source who wished to remain anonymous.

"We were not involved in the making of the tape, but we published a story on the tape due to its obvious newsworthiness. It is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation," he wrote in an update at the end of the story.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon denied any association with the recordings.

"I certainly do not know anything about how this may have happened. However, it's clear that this is the McConnell we all know - leading a negative, nasty campaign determined to lash out at his opponents since he doesn't have any accomplishments to point to," he said in a statement.

Benton, McConnell's campaign manager, insisted the recording was not leaked and noted the meeting was held "in a very private, closed, locked conference room."

The campaign office is located in a Louisville office building in a private suite on the second floor, according to Benton.

McConnell was meeting with a half-dozen, long-time McConnell aides.

"These are people who have been with McConnell for years," Benton said. ""This was like a family meeting."

The team did not find out about the existence of the tape until it was reported in the media.

According to the audio, McConnell largely stayed quiet during the meeting but opened up at the beginning, saying it's best to get a head start on the opposition research.

"I assume most of you have played the, the game Whac-A-Mole?" (Laughter.) This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out," he said, adding they planned to take a similar approach with the local newspaper The Courier.

Evidence of the preemptive approach was a web video McConnell's campaign released in February, attacking Democrats for not yet fielding a candidate to challenge the Senate minority leader. The parody attempts to depict President Barack Obama as being frustrated with the potential crop of Democratic contenders in Kentucky, including Judd.

Judd also saw attacks from American Crossroads, the conservative super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove. The group spent $10,000 on a web ad earlier this week, lambasting Judd for her declared allegiance to Obama, and her love of Tennessee, the state neighboring Kentucky where she's lived for years.

"This is just a fun way to kind of get under her skin a little bit and kind of show her what a campaign would really be like if she makes this decision," Jonathan Collegio, the communications director for American Crossroads, told CNN at the time.

– CNN's Carol Cratty contributed to this report.


Filed under: Ashley Judd • Mitch McConnell
soundoff (336 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    Those shameful liberal socalists exposing the truth .

    Mitch McConnell: Yeah, I'm Joining This Gun Control Filibuster

    April 9, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  2. ghostriter

    Hmmm....when Herman Big Daddy Cain had some allegation hurled his way before bowing out of the race, he blamed democrats. When Rick Perry started going down in flames, he blamed democrats. Newt, Santorum, Bachmann.....all blaming democrats....

    Hey, at least he didn't blame the liberal lamestream media....That card is bout worn out.

    April 9, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  3. Non factor

    Mr. Mc Connell is not FIT to be in politics. Period.
    He is one of the main reasons the Repub party has imploded to nothing but a tiny pile of rubble. The Rs cannot make a comeback as long as they continue to be evil and hating on people, especially Pres Obama. What a despicable man!

    April 9, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  4. just sayin

    time to secretly start bugging and video tappping all of the democrat offices and meetings. if it is ok for them to do it, then return the favor. either start enforcing our laws or all hell will break loose lefties.

    April 9, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  5. iBod

    So, if Gabrielle Giffords decided to run a campaign for Senator in Kentucky, according to the McConnell managers and organizers, her mental capabilities would actually be worthy to attack? Of course not; so thus he and his team are hypocrites for even thinking of attacking Ashley Judd in that manner. I mean, the motives he actually possesses include doing whatever it takes to win against a Democrat. It's sickening, really.

    Props to the whistleblower. I have no doubt this will, in turn, hurt McConnell in his reelection.

    April 9, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  6. lottie

    smearing Judd was the goal guys. Keep that in mind while no chin try's to make it look like the left is after him. Probably one of his own who could see what a slime he is.

    April 9, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  7. EDDIE

    Yea I guess nobody that was in the room could have recorded it.That to far reaching.The left sneaking into a campaign office and planting bug seems more likely.The left hasn't sunken to the low's of the republican's.What a joke.Maybe it was James okeefe who is ticked off at someone in the repub world.lol

    April 9, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  8. DirtyHeat

    Can any of you liberals please tell me what the problem with exploiting an opposing candidates mental health, when they have suffered from depression and has been diagnosed as being bipolar? It would seem like that would be a legitimate concern, and the people should know the details, and the severity of the illness before casting their vote.

    April 9, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  9. commiecat

    Tell me how the hell someone could attack another person's mental health???

    April 9, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  10. James Bond

    Donna, this is all obamas fault, if he...... fill it in for us will you dear?

    April 9, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  11. commiecat

    The liberal base will do anything to take folks' minds off of an impending attack by N. Korea to America's mainland...It is coming!!!

    April 9, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  12. Sniffit

    "While I don't agree with the tactic AT ALL, it's a matter of free speech. "

    It's not even remotely a matter of free speech: this in no way, shape or form calls into question particular acts, laws or regulations by the state that restrict an individual's speech. McConnell and his campaign are absolutely, 100% free to discuss utterly disgusting, underhanded and abhorrent campaign strategies for smearing their opponents and assassinating their character...and everyone else is absolutely, 100% free to ridicule, condemn and shame him for it.

    April 9, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  13. Thomas

    Last week Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell' was playing the victim card , saying the liberal media was exposing his wife's family ties to large business contracts in China .

    Poor Mitch !

    April 9, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  14. Sniffit

    "Can any of you liberals please tell me what the problem with exploiting an opposing candidates mental health, when they have suffered from depression and has been diagnosed as being bipolar? It would seem like that would be a legitimate concern, and the people should know the details, and the severity of the illness before casting their vote."

    If you can't already see what's wrong with what they were planning to do and how they were planning to do it, then no amount of 'splainin is likely to enlighten you. Would be a waste of time trying.

    April 9, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  15. dorkmeister

    Ashley doesn't know the first thing about what is going on with the US. These actors trying to get into politics amaze me...Keep them the hell out of it...their trying to get elected is just another nail in the coffin of this lame country!!!

    April 9, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  16. LetsBeCivil

    Sounds suspicious to me: "McConnell largely stayed quiet during the meeting..." Could this have been a setup within the campaign?

    April 9, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  17. Mark

    "We've always said the Left will stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters is above and beyond," Benton also said. "

    Sorry, this independent is not drinking that kool-aid – they are BOTH equally capable of this garbage, donmt even try the partisan card. Too old, know better. been there done that see it.

    April 9, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  18. rs

    just sayin

    time to secretly start bugging and video tappping all of the democrat offices and meetings.
    ___________________
    And your proof is?

    dollars to donuts, it was one of McConnell's office or clean-up staff.

    April 9, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  19. Hugh Jass

    "an impending attack by N. Korea to America's mainland...It is coming!!!" Hide under your bed, or maybe you have a bunker by now? Hide there. I myself am completely terrified of the North Koreans.

    April 9, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  20. rs

    commiecat

    The liberal base will do anything to take folks' minds off of an impending attack by N. Korea to America's mainland...It is coming!!!
    _______________________________
    You panic like this often? North Korea? Really? Those crazy fools do this pretty much every year.

    April 9, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  21. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I would like to know the full mental state of teapublicans. For example, after 138 teapublicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act a month ago, some of them took to their web site shortly thereafter with false and misleading ads claiming that they voted for the bill. You can google this and then try to decide for yourself the mental state, character and integrity of these people.

    April 9, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  22. Sam

    @ John Bergstrom – Actually, the "Watergate incident" was the attempted burglary of the DNC headquarters located at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. Several staffers spent time in prison and a President was forced to resign due to their parts in the cover up.

    April 9, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  23. Snarky MacFee

    Well another set of weak-willed and weak-chinned male toadies to mock another abused female. That generation is dying off fast.

    April 9, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  24. beavertonsteve

    I'm guessing this exact same conversation played out in Chris Coons' campaign discussions before he pummelled Christine O'Connell in their senate race and probably just about every other campaign out there. Those trying to make this some kind of right wing atrocity are kidding themselves.

    April 9, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  25. MaryM

    Ha Ha Caught in the dirt of his campaign, McConnell calls in the FBI to find out who on his campaign staff recorded the meetings. bye bye McConnell, even someone on your own staff thinks you are dirty

    April 9, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
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