April 9th, 2013
10:08 AM ET
10 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.

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"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. Gurgyl

    Drive this animal out..

    April 9, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  2. much thunder..little rain

    the far left has turn the democratic party into nixon/ joe mccarthy win at all cost party ...

    April 9, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  3. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    The gop is going to lose the house in 2014 mid terms ,well deserved the gop party of stupid and stupid voters deserves to lose, again !!!!

    April 9, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  4. Wake up People!

    Really? Watergate style tactics?? This is rich from this venomous klan of traitors. If memory serves me correctly, wasn't Tricky Dick from the Right?? I realize I was merely a child back then, but I think I have it right.

    April 9, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  5. Sniffit

    ""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.""

    Coming from people who were discussing fabricating attacks on someone's mental health, that statement right there from Beaker's people is the very definition of chutzpah.

    April 9, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  6. Thomas

    McConnell voted for the initial War in Iraq, has supported the "troop surge", and opposed a timetable for withdrawal from the country. McConnell remains one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq War, which he considers a central part of the War on Terrorism. He holds the view that the violence in Iraq is perpetrated primarily by al-Qaeda and other international jihadists who would otherwise be engaged in terrorist actions within the United States.

    Mitch McConnell / GW Bush
    Just like old times

    April 9, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  7. Just Saying

    And plotting to question someone's mental state of mind just because they might be tough to beat in an election is so above-board? Seriously, this joker needs to be sent home packing. He is nothing but a hack and should have been sent home long ago!

    April 9, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  8. tree

    I have no respect for the GOP

    April 9, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  9. SafeJourney

    Mother Jones obtained the tape because someone in McConnell's office taped the meetings and wants McConnell gone from office . Simple

    April 9, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  10. David

    McConnell can't attack her on the issues, so he's considering attacking her mental health? Typical win-at-all-costs thinking.

    April 9, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  11. rs

    Funny, it was probably somebody the office staff snubbed- like with Romney and the 47% stuff. Cute comparing McConnell's office to the biggest Republican scandal ever. Projection perhaps?
    The FBI will sort it out, and until then McConnell is still just a lobbyists' tool and a bafoon.

    April 9, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  12. spudnik56

    McConnell probably released in information himself. As for Benton's assertion, it the right that has proven time and again they will do anything, even including breaking the law to get what they want.

    April 9, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  13. edpeters101

    Sounds to me like somebody at the meeting had some integrity and decided to let others know what the scumbags (and I mean that in a positive way) in KY are really like. YMMV

    April 9, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  14. Sniffit

    Bet you $10,000 some campaign worker recorded this because it was so disgusting and handed it over to MJ. Beaker is just deflecting from the real story...i.e., just how disgusting and how low he is willing to go to hold onto power...by making outlandish accusations at the people who outed him.

    April 9, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  15. Thomas

    @much thunder..little rain
    the far left has turn the democratic party into nixon/ joe mccarthy win at all cost party ...

    Are you saying Mitch McConnell , Rick Perry , Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert are Liberal ?

    April 9, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  16. Jilinwa

    That was pretty cheap thinking on McConnell's part to attack Judds mental health. Regardless of how the info was gotten, it is still true. mcConnell is pitiful.

    April 9, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  17. Bob

    So the issue isn't that these people were discussing a smear campaign against someone considering a run for public office, but that said discussion was recorded? Was that considered a "protected" meeting? I don't think discussing character assassination meets that criteria.

    April 9, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  18. bcrunner

    Could it be that one of those aides thought it was not very nice of Mitch to try to paint Ashley Judd as mentally unstable and leaked the recording??? This is intriguing... I must say..

    April 9, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  19. ThinkAgain

    The Left will "stop at nothing"? Yet another example of how Republicans roll these days: Accuse your enemies of your own despicable behavior.

    April 9, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  20. Kathy0715

    We need the FBI to find out how the tape was made? Obviously someone at the meeting recorded it and gave it to Mother Jones. There, I just saved the FBI from having to spend money on this investigation.

    April 9, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  21. SoSad

    McConnel may God have mercy on you!

    April 9, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  22. AJ

    Hey, let's divert to how they got these, rather than on what we said or planned.

    April 9, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  23. al

    The GOP is running scared. She would have won if she had run. McConnell is worthless and needs to go.

    April 9, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  24. Darryl

    McConnell will get EXACTLY what he deserves in the end. The mid-term elections will come and ALL the GOP will suffer their fate as it should.

    April 9, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  25. katincal

    Sounds like Jesse Benton (campaign manager) is grasping as straws because his people have been caught showing their dirty laundry. Get a new job (preferably outside of politics). These rest of the group sound like a bunch of idiots. Can't have idiots running this country now can we!

    April 9, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
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