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. Marcuscassius

    To quote a man that felt bugging anyone in America was okay, and strip searching Americans in public airports was just fine.

    "If you don't have anything to hide, you have nothing to worry about". M. McConnell

    April 9, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  2. Wally

    Are you sure it isn't Mitch McConnell who is mentally disturbed?

    April 9, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  3. Texasmike

    "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.

    What a bunch of sadists running politics these days.

    April 9, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  4. freedom

    We already have Benghazigate – which is still being investigated – let's expose this White House already!

    April 9, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. NameJoe

    Ashley should just come out of the closet. She would probably get more respect.

    April 9, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  6. Pete

    McConnell doesn't think one of his staffers is a paid informant or maybe a fly on the wall...McConnell knows he's toast this time and no money or dirty campaign deals can get you the seat this time bud,just save face and retire ..Take your Asian American wife and go to where she sent them under Bushs regime to China where they're still at..Maybe there you can BS the people like you used to do here and get something instead of a boot to your keyster like at midterms we all expect...

    April 9, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  7. Bill

    It was probably one of McConnell's own staff. Anyway, who cares? He is gone after the 2014 election.

    April 9, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  8. Jules

    How about somebody in the campaign volunteered the information or sold it.

    April 9, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. Yanni

    McConnell and his campaign staff: we admit that we play dirty politics. However, people have no right to know what we discussed in private and do it in public, therefore we sue.

    April 9, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  10. ted

    This quote is so extremely far right wing:

    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.

    Benton, you are a pompous ignorant wacko. Keep in mind that your party attacks the left. Why do you think McConnell shoudl not be attacked? He is the one who stated that his only goal in life was a one term Barack Obama. Guess that didn't work out so well, did it. Stop sniffing the glue Benton and get a grip.

    April 9, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  11. Woody's Hay

    strange how a "liberal" got into a locked private office without being noticed and planting a bug where he knew the strategy session would be ... in an office building with security and such.

    No doubt, the office building security was non-union, too.

    April 9, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  12. BCW

    It is time for McConnell to reitre. Let the new GOP young guns try.

    April 9, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  13. prairedoc

    Poor Mitch McConnell. He can't even attack a private citizen without being found out. On top of that, he's showing his true colors of contempt for the American people by threatening to filibuster in order to keep the gun debate from occurring in the Senate. (How much is the N.R.A. paying you Mitch? Oh, and Mitch, are you sure all of your "trusted" staffers are exactly that, trusted?)

    April 9, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  14. rr

    Remember, McConnell headed the meeting the night President Obama became President to lay a plan down to make President Obama a 1 term president and to obstruct anything the President put forth. Well, that did not work for McConnell and neither will this. It's time for McConnell to exit the stage.

    April 9, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  15. Brian Smithen

    Yeah I'm sure Mitch would love to censor the media, especially when it shows exactly what kind of person he is.

    April 9, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  16. Ferret out the BS

    Mitch didn't get to where he is by being Mother Theresa.

    April 9, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  17. Of Course It Was A Leak

    One of his trusted circle was a fan of Judd, suffered from depression, and/or had a relative who did. And we're going to waste FBI resources to find this mole for Mitch.

    April 9, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  18. just sayin

    it was probably the obama administration recording it with the help of holder's fbi.

    April 9, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  19. just sayin

    it is not surprising that ashley judd has mental health issues. after all, she's a democrat. i mean, isn't it a given? add to that all of the violent leftist terrorists and the violent environmentalists and criminals, along with all the welfare cheats and ilegals. is it any wonder a politcial party composed of society's worse miscreants is out there breaking the law?

    April 9, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  20. Richard Weber

    Anyone want to make a bet that McConnell's staff did the bugging just to get publicity?

    April 9, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  21. colt45

    Well, more evidence that Republicans are far more mentally unbalanced than Ashley Judd has ever been. Could they be more hateful and un-Christianlike?!

    April 9, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  22. HR Coller

    I'm a life long liberal and I don't care for McConnells politics one bit. That said. . bugging someones office, phone, or home is just slimy. I hope someone gets nailed for it and serves time. Especially considering that this is one of the most powerful men in the U.S. Senate there ought to be an additional level of criminal liability.

    April 9, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  23. sim namore

    What? Dirty tricks? Ever hear of 'friendly fire'? What's that? I can't hear you over the Reichstag burning!

    April 9, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  24. Name

    delusional politics from ol' turtle heads a pokin'

    April 9, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  25. luvUamerica

    I wish Ashley Judd all the luck and hope she WILL run against Mitch. The guy was planning a personal attack. Not on issues, as he has done nothing but create a "do nothing" congress.

    I wish Ms. Judd would run as an independent. I will support her.

    April 9, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
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