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. Grinning Libber

    Thanks for publicizing your dirty Mitch...

    April 9, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  2. Oscar Pitchfork

    Wasn't it the REPUBLICANS that bugged the Watergate Headquarters? And the comment "We've always said the Left will stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell" was, what?-They're indignant that someone overheard their conspiracy to slander a possible threat to their well-monied regime?

    April 9, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  3. rich

    Now is he going to rewrite laws (all of them) to make it so one cannot ever record anyone like Gingrich did when he found out that his cell phone broadcast over the airwaves like a two way radio in the 1990s. Don't think for a second that McConnell will not hesitate to take away more freedoms we enjoy, or better yet have to have. It also is very funny, not haha funny but tragic funny to see this repub/TB playing a victim. Poor, poor guy, everyone hates him so he should go eat worms. Maybe they could eat the worms with their whine.

    April 9, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  4. JCMars

    The crime here is McConnell running for a 6th term. Get the old blood out (not age but years in government). We're finally getting rid of Levin here in Michigan after 6 terms but only cause he is not running again. It should be a crime for anyone to be a senator for more than 2 terms. If you can't get the job done in 12 years, move on and let someone new try. These constantly re-elected politicians like Levin and Hatch and McConnell (and Rangle and Conyers in the house) are the biggest probliem with Washington. No new ideas except how to line their pockets.

    April 9, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  5. 2012liberal

    How out of touch r u? Watergate? Plez. Bugs? All u hv 2 do is take a cell phn n and press record. Trust NO ONE! Baaahahaha

    April 9, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  6. JeapersCreapers

    I think Dan Logsdon said it best. "No accomplishments to point to".

    April 9, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  7. SokrMom

    The Republican Party doesn't want any more instances of the public finding out what any of their candidates' private opinions are. They'll let us know if their candidates have something to hear that we are meant to hear...

    April 9, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  8. SarahTonin

    McConnell .. isn't that the guy who spent his last four years trying to get rid of Obama? A little insight into his tactics is very interesting. I saw a closeup picture of Mitch today and he reminds me of that Hannibal character, Mason Verger! He's just about as nasty too!

    April 9, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  9. Nicholas Smith

    What is shameful is the President and Vice President using those poor parents from Sandy Hook as political pawns in their evil chess game to disarm the American public.

    April 9, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  10. Adom

    McConnell does not like the taste of his own medicine.

    April 9, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  11. Jerry

    I've got money on one of his people recording it and either planting it Apple style to create hype or out of hate for this guy

    April 9, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
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