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. just here to cause trouble, not to help the middle class

    delusional politics from ol' turtle heads a pokin'

    April 9, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  2. ERKO

    Go away GOP.

    April 9, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  3. Cartman

    Do any of you really think that democratic campaigns don't do exactly the same thing? It is a sad fact that dirty campaigns win and both sides are looking for ways to find or fabricate dirt on thier opponents.

    If you believe only one side does stuff like this, you probably need to be in some sort of treatment program to get a grip on reality.

    The real issue here is that the media thinks it is OK to illegally record anyone's private conversations.

    I'm sure everyone here has, on too numerous to count occasions, said things in private that they would not want to be made public, particularly in an illegal manner.

    April 9, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  4. The Real Tom Paine

    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.
    James O'Keefe stole your idea about 4 years ago. Too late, again, junior.

    April 9, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  5. Wake up People!

    It's truly sad that a tiny little woman put so much fear in the heart of what is supposed to pass for a man, that said man had to attack a private citizen.

    The GOP clown car continues......

    April 9, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  6. bfd007

    Everything that a anyone that works for the people should be recorded and put out for the public to hear that way everyone can know just how much of a POS they really are ! All those in government are nothing but a pile of dung and should be tried for treason !

    April 9, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  7. NurseLi143

    I wonder if Mitch will apologize when the source is proven to be one of his family of advisors rather than democrats. Funny how many posters didn't take issue with hidden cameras and taping at Watergate or ACORN offices, or with the Patriot Act's sweeping ability to spy without cause or warrant. But poor Mitch revealing his innermost devious plans – how dare they be subject to scrutiny.

    April 9, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  8. Quit Crying

    All the libs who are bashing McConnell would be crying like little girls with a skinned knee if it happened to one of the Dems. Hypocrites

    April 9, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  9. ironman59

    The slimy part of this is they aren't upset about what they said, no apologies being made. They are simply they got caught planning a smear campaign. It just proves that this guy should be voted out of office.

    April 9, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  10. godems

    As I recall, Watergate was Republican based, dirty tricks of Donald Segrete and company. All depends whose bull's getting gored. When it is them, it is okay! When it comes to them taking it, not so much. Too bad Repubs did not live in same world as rest of us do.

    April 9, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  11. Fred Evil

    Couldn't possibly have just been a disgruntled/disgusted aid who simply turned on their iPhone's Voice Message Recorder, could it? Has to be a bug?
    Well, we'll see, but spying is not a typical 'Liberal' tactic.

    April 9, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  12. jwc

    To the good people of Kentucky...please cast your vote AGAINST this small minded man. The nation needs statesmen just now and Mitch McConnell has done enough damage for his own political gain. We need the Senate to VOTE, not block. However they vote, at least the people are represented. Mitch McConnell blocks the voice of the people entirely, and we humbly ask you to remove him. Thanks.

    April 9, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  13. Jason

    If it was "Nixonian" doesn't that mean McConnell did the recording himself??

    April 9, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  14. Greenspam

    How low are liberals? Cons will never resort to secret video tapping or recording to bring down anyone, any organization!

    April 9, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  15. JohnW

    I would find it a lot more likely that someone on McConnell's team did this, possibly with McConnell's blessing. Great straw man tactic, record your own meeting, leak it, then lambaste the left for vile methods. I wouldn't put it past him one bit.

    April 9, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  16. seanster5977

    I hope David Corn of Mother Jones has to do time. He is such a loser wimp. Liberals, remember to spay and neuter them.

    April 9, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  17. Phil Thomas

    Fix Mcconnel got caught with his pants down trying to work some vudu with his team. This could not of happened to a better guy, 99.9% chance some one in his camp released this. On the .001 chance some one bugged their office props to who ever did it and exposed this. The GOP is trying hard to pin some Nixon Label on Obama but the problem is these guys own the sleaze component and have it down. These guys are more about fixing elections than winning them

    April 9, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  18. joet

    Recording device? How about a disgruntled aid with and I-Phone?

    April 9, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  19. cali girl

    Long live the Robmey tapes.
    I wouldn't be surprised if Beaker did this himself for a little press time.

    April 9, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  20. David

    McConnell is a prototype republican... old, white, paranoid, narrow-minded.

    My guess is that one of his own planted the recording device... if in fact this pans out as a true story.

    Or perhaps someone on the payroll of the teabaggers.

    April 9, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  21. Malory Archer

    Quit Crying

    All the libs who are bashing McConnell would be crying like little girls with a skinned knee if it happened to one of the Dems. Hypocrites


    Yeah, except there's no proof that Dems had anything to do with this. Addtionally, it already happened to a Dem, and the accused was none other than that homely rethug kid who likes to dress like a 70s blacksploitation pimp, who attempted to wiretap the office of a U.S. Senator. And absolutely NOTHING happened to him.

    April 9, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  22. Sniffit

    He's already fundraising off this ridiculous claim (in tweets etc), which almost suggests it could be false flag, altho that's always a risky accusation to make.

    April 9, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  23. Malory Archer


    How low are liberals? Cons will never resort to secret video tapping or recording to bring down anyone, any organization!


    LOL – You forgot to finish you post with "sarcasm off".

    April 9, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  24. Malory Archer


    I hope David Corn of Mother Jones has to do time.


    For what crime?

    April 9, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  25. Sniffit

    Where's the bug/wiretap? McConnell and his staff have 100% control over that room. Where is it? Produce it or shut up and admit it was a leak.

    April 9, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
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