April 9th, 2013
10:08 AM ET
2 years 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. Wake up People!

    You know, you have to laugh at the GOP, they initiate, but when the tables are turned, they whine like little girls. McConnell was plotting against a PRIVATE CITIZEN whom had only considered running. She hadn't even made a decision yet, but there he was looking like the coward he is, attacking a woman for no reason at all. Now that his strategy has been exposed, he is crying like a baby.

    Then I think back to about a year ago...... Mitt Romney, who wasn't even the GOP candidate YET, was making ads attacking all of his opponents in the primary, and ads attacking President Obama. While the POTUS was sitting back watching them destroy one another. Then the POTUS starts fighting back and the entire GOP and this site starts spreading the lies that President Obama started the attacks. And the MSM perpetuated the lie.

    Oh the hypocrisy and mendacity of these people is astounding.

    April 9, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  2. just askin

    can we get the recordings of all the meetings where the smear campaign against romney was discussed by obama's campaign staff? hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a national smear campaign even before romney became the candidate.

    so it looks like mcconnell learned the lessons of the obama campaign well. go for the throat and don't stop. good job mcconnell. i'm glad you are fighting fire with fire. it ids about time the republicans stop being door mats in these elections.

    April 9, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  3. Newell london

    It's a illegal recording and the media normally doesn't discuss the contents of illegally obtained recordings, except of course when it involves Republicans.

    April 9, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  4. Malory Archer

    I wouldn't put it past beaker or someone on his staff to record the meeting and then cry victim.

    April 9, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  5. ST

    This goes to show that McConnell knows himself that he is doing a horrible job in the Senate and for the people of Kentucky. Why all the panic if at all his job is appreciated?

    April 9, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  6. B.

    McConnell has proven already that he is willing to go to any extent to destroy anyone who attempts to replace him. The man is deplorable and should be replaced as he has absolutely no scruples with his only agenda is to himself and to make Obama fail. He belongs to the previous century and is no Public Servant by any stretch of the imagination!

    April 9, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  7. pokydoke

    Mitch is a slime ball, KY deserves better. KY is a beautiful state with hard working intelligent people, I can't imagine why they elect people like McConnell and Paul.

    April 9, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. Bart

    "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." – Isn't this exactly what James O'Keefe (the conservative "reporter") did? Conservatives love him and hail him as a hero and invited him the Republican Convention? So sick of the hypocrisy.

    April 9, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  9. zakery

    Instead of Libs just admitting this was wrong much like Nixon was wrong they instead attack Mitch McConnell. Understand that this is against the law. I know y'all support law breaking organizations like weather underground and occupy wall street but come on.

    April 9, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  10. t.marino

    Mitch McConnell is the absolute worst. Everyone knows his tactics and he will stop at nothing in his attack on others. So one of his so called "friends" at the meeting taped him perhaps? I can't imagine anyone even liking this dolt.

    April 9, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  11. Hugh Jass

    "time to secretly start bugging and video tappping all of the democrat offices and meetings" You've been doing it since the Sixties. There was this thing called Watergate . . .

    April 9, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  12. v_mag

    dorkmeister: "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!!!"
    ----
    Man, do I agree with that! We all would have been sooooo much better off if Reagan and Schwartzenegger had stayed the heck out of politics!

    Ashley Judd, on the other hand, has a Harvard degree in public administration. She probably would have been very good in politics.

    April 9, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  13. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I would like to know the mental state of Mr. Akins and Mr. muordock, Mr. Sanford and Mr. Petreaus! I would like to know the mental state of those teapublicans who have blocked 95 percent of all legislation in the past four years to try to make our President "a one term President." I would like to know the mental state of teapublicans who stress LESS government but want to strip the middle class of their collective bargaining rights, pensions and life savings, women of their right to chose, seniors of their pensions and Americans of their right to vote.

    April 9, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  14. Thomas

    @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.

    Are you suggesting Michele Bachmann's medical records be exposed to the public ?

    April 9, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  15. No support

    McConnell represents a backwards group of the old south. How many people of color do you think were in this meeting of "close like family" staff members? Think that the same sex marriage thing is going to save them? This leak shows just how out of touch the old man with nothing on his mind except to say no to any Obama plan is. Face it, in his state to belittle a black man is still a show of leadership... they still feel threatened there.

    April 9, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  16. rs

    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?
    ________________________________________
    Oh, I dunno, maybe because it isn't and shouldn't be an issue, at least for folks with any sense or morality? Look McConnell is only sorry because once again, rather than debate issues or facts, he'd rather throw mud, but hey, he is the spawn of Richard Nixon's party.

    April 9, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  17. rs

    just askin

    can we get the recordings of all the meetings where the smear campaign against romney was discussed by obama's campaign staff? hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a national smear campaign even before romney became the candidate.
    __________________
    Your memory is bad. Romney smeared himself. Remember the 47% comment recorded by the "invisible" wait staff?

    April 9, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  18. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Perhaps if the FBI or CIA had wire tap the Oval office during GWB's tenure and discovered how he and Cheyney fabricated a lie to invade Iraq and murder thousands of our troops and tens of thhousands of Iraqi civilians, he and his cabinet would be in detention at Gitmo, I mean at the ICC.

    April 9, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  19. Bart

    "How can anyone attack another person's mental health?" was asked. Bush did it to McCain in 2000. Look it up – the is textbook on how you do it.

    April 9, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  20. conservativessuckit

    How quickly the conservatives forget how it was CONSERVATIVE "journalists" who secretly taped ACORN employees and then used it to try and smear Obama, which ultimately did not work.

    April 9, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  21. Lynda/Minnesota

    "It wasn't a leak," Benton told CNN National Political Correspondent Jim Acosta in an interview, noting the meeting was held "in a very private, closed, locked conference room."

    Sure sounds as if it was a leak. Where is Karl Rove when you need him to sort out all these pesky little details for us?

    April 9, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  22. winchester74

    The FBI doesn't need to investigate the group that was conspiring to smear a political candidate – but they do need to investigate the people who exposed the conspiracy. Now that's democracy – Republican style.

    April 9, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  23. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    McConnel has no record to run on so he has to devise a smear campaign to attack his potential opponents. Ludicrous!

    April 9, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  24. The Truth

    How does it feel to be illegally wiretapped!!! Its all well and good when you approve laws that make so you can spy on the American People, but when it happens to McConnell suddenly its a big problem...Hypocrits

    April 9, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  25. winchester74

    Romney smeared himself every time he opened his mouth. He made things easy for the Obama campaign.

    April 9, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
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