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. roscoe00

    It sounds to me that the criminals that are being investigated are members of the liberal media and not GOP staffers holding a private meeting. Dirty tricks? Hah. The only way Obama could get elected is to have his favorite bartender bug Mitt Romnet's speech and give it to CNN. Anyway it's our right to know just what kind of nut job Ashely Judd is. I didn't even need Mitch to tell me that.

    April 9, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  2. The Real Tom Paine


    How low are liberals? Cons will never resort to secret video tapping or recording to bring down anyone, any organization!
    James O'Keefe ring a bell? He tried to bring down CNN, remember?

    April 9, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  3. joe

    The real revelation on the tape is a slurping sound that turned out to be–as many have suspected–McConnell sucking lemons.

    April 9, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  4. Rodeo Joe

    Since Nixon was pardoned by a Republican for his Watergate bugging, what's all the whoopla about?

    April 9, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  5. flasher3838

    her hisory of mental health is completely fair game. we are talking about a senate seat that may be entiltled to know many u.s. security secrets. of course her mental health is fair game

    April 9, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  6. TruePatriots

    LOL Republicans...

    April 9, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  7. nuntukamen

    We also get to see just exactly how this miscreant thinks and campaigns, which naturally would be embarrassing. He isn't worthy of elected office.

    April 9, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  8. Gonzo

    From all of the liberals' comments here attacking the Republicans one would think they badly need anger management therapy!!! What a bunch of petty, ignorant, idiots! Get a life, people!!
    When the Repubs win again, and in politics it always comes full circle, they'll be jumping out of windows!!

    April 9, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  9. Alan

    "Turn out McConnell's lights, his party is over"! What the FBI should be investigating is his fraud, waste and abuse of a publich office. A unprofessional in more than the sense of the word who came out 5 minutes after Obama was elected in 2008 swearing he wouldn't get a 2nd term, McConnell has not authored or sponsored 1 bill in the last 5 years that created jobs, re-worked the tax code or contributed to the growth of the middle class or any class for that matter. Suing him for 5 terms worth of non performance should be the Attorney Generals prime focus. This is the 21st century and this 19th century (at best) politician thinks its the 1950's once again where smear campaigns are the key to victory – PLEASE, his home state, pick ANYONE to run against this bozo and then ask the rest of the country for donations for his/her campaign...you will be surprised of how much the country wants this guy gone! He has had his 30 yrs, please give anyone else the chance. Thank you

    April 9, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  10. Wake up People!

    SHE WASN'T EVEN A CANDIDATE!!! How hard is that to understand? She expressed an interest, but she never said she would run. Before she could even decide, ole Mitch had an ad attacking her. How is THAT not wrong??

    April 9, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  11. Grady

    Shocking, absolutley shocking...some one using dirty, low down, political tactics to record me, discussing the use of dirty, lowdown, politcal tactics againt a possible opponent...

    April 9, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  12. joejeffrey

    So McConnell talks about how to personally attack a potential opponent in the ugliest ways, gets recorded, and NOW accuses the whistle-blower of being Nixonian! I supposed he's too stupid and self-righteous to see the irony that another Republicanm, acting exactly like Nixon, is calling people "Nixonian."

    April 9, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  13. Chelle

    Amazing how Mr. McConnell is assuming that the office was bugged, I think a better assumption is that someone in his inner circle arranged the recording. As many have said, where was his outrage when this happened to ACORN? Is it only wrong when it happens to Republicans?

    April 9, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  14. joejeffrey

    So McConnell discusses how to attack a potential opponent in the ugliest ways, gets recorded, and now attacks the whistle-blower as Nixonian. I suppose he's too stupid and self-righteous to see the irony of another Republican behavintg exactly like Nixon and calling the attacked person Nixonian.

    April 9, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  15. Binga Linga

    Interesting play on "the Left" when it appears it was McConnell's campaign that was preparing to use dirty tricks ala Nixon. The FBI should be investigating McConnell!

    April 9, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  16. headlessthompsongunner

    Is it really that easy to bug a secret meeting of a US Senator's staff, or was it just easy for someone in the room to do it? A guy like McConnell has lots of enemies. Not all of them are Democrats.

    April 9, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    The McConnell campaign strategists are actually the ones who recorded these comments and forwarded them to Mother Jones. Perfect way to both a) make Judd's campaign look bad and b) highlight the negatives that Judd brings to the table. Genius move.

    April 9, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  18. Lando

    Mcconnell will do anything to stay in office and waste people's money by doing nothing...nada... Kentucky wake up....

    April 9, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  19. npofahl

    Oh that's precious!!!! "The let will stop at nothing...." This coming from a man who's very party is responsible for more lives destroyed and more cheating then every spouse in the history of America. He's about to attack Judd on her mental health issues but believes it's underhanded that we found out about it? He points to his wife's attack as if this gives him credibility? An attack that the liberal group that did it, apologized for. Something no Republican would ever do. Oh my, this is comical.

    April 9, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    What type of bug is McConnell suggesting was used? Yes, I understand the term is being used to further his Watergate nonsense, but complaining to have been bugged is such outdated terminology. Mitt Romney was videotaped using a common enough cell phone.

    Was the "bug" found? Who put it in the room? Is there video surveillance of the people entering that secret room? In other words, has this been investigated at all, or is McConnell simply trying to cover up a mole in his own campaign?

    April 9, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  21. headlessthompsongunner

    Shouldn't we be worried about the really huge issues facing America ...like JayZ and Beyonce visiting Cuba?

    April 9, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  22. drivennail

    I have little sympathy for McConnell. For his nature of the left remark, I'm from Louisiana, and the Republican action squad was already arrested for attempting to bug my Senator's office by posing as a telephone repairman (Sen Mary Landrieu).
    His #1 goal of seeing President Obama defeated shows the kind if Statesman he is.

    April 9, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |

    So Mitchie is upset they attacked his wife but does not feel bad about attacking Ashley Judd's character? So "I can say what I want, when I want, about whomever I want but you can't" Seems the mantra for the right wing. Roscoe get over yourself – The South lost, The Republicans lost and you're sounding a little lost also.

    April 9, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  24. bill henschel

    Politics aside, Ashley is as fine as double split frog hair. She's splitting from her husband so maybe I have a shot. Love Naomi too, but Wynonna would kill me. Might take 6 undertakers to get the smile off my face though.

    April 9, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  25. Malory Archer


    From all of the liberals' comments here attacking the Republicans one would think they badly need anger management therapy!!! What a bunch of petty, ignorant, idiots! Get a life, people!!


    Hypocrisy, thy name is gonzo!

    April 9, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
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