McConnell, Mother Jones dispute origin of strategy session tape

The reelection campaign for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) claims that its headquarters was bugged after Mother Jones put a recording of a private staff meeting online today:

The 12-minute tape reveals McConnell and his campaign staff lampooning then-potential candidate Ashley Judd, whom they call “a haystack of needles” when it comes to political liabilities, at a Feb. 2 meeting. Judd has since decided not to run.

“We’ve always said the Left will stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Nixonian tactics to bug campaign headquarters is above and beyond,” McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said in a statement.

He added: “Senator McConnell’s campaign is working with the FBI and has notified the local U.S. attorney in Louisville, per FBI request, about these recordings. Obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Senator McConnell’s campaign office without consent. By whom and how that was accomplished presumably will be the subject of a criminal investigation.” (Read the rest of the article here.)

At The Fix, Chris Cillizza writes that the taped discussion about Alison Lundergan Grimes, a potential candidate, is more interesting than the remarks about Judd.

McConnell doesn’t have much on Grimes. Attacking her as a tool of President Obama might do some damage but as we’ve seen in recent years — Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota — simply linking a Democrat in a conservative state to Obama isn’t a foolproof strategy for victory.

McConnell avoided questions about the contents of the tape this afternoon, “repeatedly accusing the ‘political left’ of ‘Nixonian tactics,’ ” Rachel Weiner writes.

Greg Sargent notes that it is not clear whether the FBI is taking seriously the campaign’s assertion the recording is the result of a bugging and not a leak:

An FBI spokesperson, Jenny Shearer, declined to confirm or deny that the request had been made of the FBI. Typically, in such situations, the agency won’t specify who made such a request, whether it was made, or how seriously it’s being taken. Theoretically, then, a campaign can ask the FBI to investigate in such a situation, and then leak to the press that such a request has been made.

Even if the tape was the result of a covert bug, Erik Wemple notes that as long as Mother Jones wasn’t directly involved, the magazine is legally protected:

Let’s just roll with the bug scenario. For the sake of some legal entertainment, suppose that someone, in the wee hours of Feb. 2, broke into this secure location via ductwork, expertly fiddled with ceiling tiles and planted a pea-size device in one of the room’s grommets . . .

Clay Calvert, a University of Florida law professor and frequent commentator on this blog, puts the rule this way: “If the news media lawfully obtain truthful information about a matter of public significance, then the government may not constitutionally punish publication of the information, absent an interest of the highest order.” . . .

Yes, reporters, you may accept clandestine recordings from law-breaking scumbags. Just don’t help them do their work. (Read his complete analysis of the legal issues here.)

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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