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.
In speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, McConnell tied the recording to a liberal group's attack on his wife's Chinese heritage.
"As you know last month my wife's ethnicity was attacked by a left-wing group in Kentucky and then apparently they also bugged my headquarters," McConnell said. He did not answer questions about the contents of the tape.
While the tape isn’t particularly flattering to the McConnell campaign, the contents seem like standard opposition research. The meeting’s leader plays clips of Judd speaking on issues such as Christianity and her support for President Obama. Attendees point out -- as other commentators had before them -- that Judd’s liberal position on issues like the environment and abortion would likely not endear her to Kentucky voters.
At one point, someone in the recording notes that Judd’s mental health could become an issue in the campaign.
She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced. 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.
At another point, the presenter brings up the “sensitive subject” of Judd’s religious preferences.
Anyhow I know this is sort of a sensitive subject but you know at least worth putting on your radar screen is that she is critical…[inaudible] sort of traditional Christianity. She sort of views it as sort of a vestige of patriarchy. She says Christianity gives a God like a man, presented and discussed exclusively with male imagery which legitimizes and seals male power, the intention to dominate even if that intention is nowhere visible.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a likely McConnell challenger, is also discussed. A staffer mentions a Freedom of Information Act filed through "a third party" to dig up potential dirt on her tenure. One staffer talks about plans to attack Grimes as "very sort of self-centered, sort of egotistical." As The Fix notes, McConnell's team has far less opposition research on Grimes.
McConnell's campaign says that the leak could not have come from one of the staff members in the room, all of whom have been with the senator for years. Mother Jones’ David Corn does not specify how he got the tape, other than to say it came from an anonymous source. In a statement, Mother Jones said that the magazine was "not involved in the making of the tape" but that "it is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation."
Corn also published the damaging “47 percent video” of Mitt Romney last year, which was filmed by a bartender at a Republican fundraiser.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joked, "I know I didn't do it."
In a statement released this afternoon, Judd condemned the recording as "yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington DC."
She went on: "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. Every day it becomes clearer how much we need change in Washington from this kind of rhetoric and actions."
The McConnell campaign has added a page to its website asking supporters to "stand with Senator McConnell against the liberal media's illegal and underhanded tactics." This afternoon, Sen. Jerry Moran, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, asked several Democratic and left-leaning organizations, including the Democratic National Committee and Mother Jones, to "state for the record that they had nothing to do with these illegal acts, denounce them, and make clear they have no place in our political debate."
First they attack our right to bear arms, then they wiretap. Stand up against the liberal left with Sen. McConnell: teammitch.com/wiretap/?src=t…
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) April 9, 2013
NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring has suggested that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee may have been involved in the leak.
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) April 9, 2013
In response, DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil said in a statement that the committee doesn't know the source of the tape and that "it is beneath the office of Minority Leader to engage in this kind of trivial politics."