Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and his campaign have reacted to the release of an audio recording of a meeting of his oppo-research team by invoking history’s most vile regime.

Though we learned on Thursday that the conversation (in which McConnell and aides discussed trashing his would-be opponent, Ashley Judd) was probably taped by someone standing outside the meeting room, McConnell at first declared that his office had been bugged.

“Quite a Nixonian move,” he mused. “This is what you get from the political left in America,” McConnell told reporters. “Much like Nixon in Watergate, that is what the political left does these days.”

In a similar vein, his campaign manager, Jesse Benton, decried the “Watergate-style tactics” in an interview with ABC News.

Just a day later, though, Benton ratcheted things up, calling the affair a “Gestapo-style” attack.

Whoa! Where does one go from there? In the spectrum of truly detestable characters, it seems the McConnell folks have lunged for the outer limit.

Probably so, says Mitchell McKinney , director of the University of Missouri’s Political Communication Institute. Mentioning the Gestapo “obviously takes us into Hitler-esque territory, and everyone knows that a politician should never mention Hitler. That’s when everyone just rolls their eyes.”

McKinney says the dramatic language might actually work against the McConnell camp. Overblown rhetoric is actually a warning sign, he says, a sort of “the lady doth protest too much” indication that the speaker is worried, big time.

“Clearly here, the response is not in proportion to the offense, whatever that might be — and that’s a reflection of their concern about the damage the recording might do.”

Enemy of my enemy?

In from the cold, and now on Pennsylvania Avenue just a block from the White House!

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group that includes an armed wing (Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK), opened its new Washington office Thursday.

A fierce foe of the Tehran government, the group — which the regime brands a violent cult — had been on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997. The NCRI hasn’t been able to operate in this country since 2003.

There had been 3,000-plus MEK members in Camp Ashraf in Iraq near the Iranian border. The MEK turned over its weapons to the Army — and has rejected violence, an NCRI official told us. But pressure from Iran led the Iraqis to close the camp recently and move the MEK closer to the capital — where they get hammered regularly by mortar fire. (The group’s leadership is based in Paris.)

A lengthy lobbying and legal campaign — backed by folks such as former U.N. ambassador John Bolton; Rep. Dana Rohrabacher; former presidential candidates Newt Gingrich (R), Rudy Giuliani (R) and Howard Dean (D); and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell — eventually forced the State Department to remove the organization from the terrorist sponsor list.

NCRI officials noted that Bolton, former Obama national security adviser Jim Jones, former congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and other backers attended the opening of the office of what’s now styled as “Iran’s parliament-in-exile.”

Glorious and free

Quote of the week: “C’est pas un cadeau.”

That was Secretary of State John Kerry upon accepting a case of Molson Canadian beer on Thursday from Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, after winning a wager on the women’s world ice hockey championship. It translates from French as “this is not a gift.”

Was that a slight to our friendly neighbors to the north, who had just called the beer a “cadeau” (which means “present”) ? Was this an undiplomatic response to some fine brew?

Not exactly — Kerry was making a joke, explaining (in perfect French, mais oui) that he didn’t consider the beer to be a “gift,” but rather the spoils of victory flowing from the defeat of the Canadian team by the U.S. squad in the championship game Wednesday.

Meaning: Thanks, but we earned those suds!

Both leaders seemed to enjoy settling the bet, though Baird hinted that the friendly rivalry was far from finished.

“I look forward to seeing you again,” Kerry concluded.

“Absolutely,” Baird replied. “When the [Ottawa] Senators beat the [Boston] Bruins.”

No text on the side

Here’s an excellent defense against accusations of technological malfeasance: being too old to understand how the gizmos work. That is, you can’t misuse technology if you don’t know how to use it at all.

Deputy Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy , who testified Thursday before a Senate committee on her nomination to lead the EPA, was grilled about the use of personal e-mail accounts to do public business — something Republicans have hammered other EPA officials about.

After McCarthy assured the panel that she never used her private account improperly to do government business (which, critics fear, might shield said dealings from scrutiny), Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked her whether the same held true for instant messages.

And that’s when she invoked what might be called the geezer defense.

“One good thing about being 58 is that I don’t even know how to use them,” she admitted, to laughs from the audience. “I don’t know how. Sorry. You’ve got to admit it.”

On the move

Plenty of movement around official Washington this week.

Sheila Nix, who was Vice President Biden’s campaign chief of staff, is the new chief of staff for Jill Biden. She replaces Cathy Russell, who last month was named the State Department’s ambassador at large for global women’s issues.

Elsewhere, David Sandalow, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Energy Department, is leaving to be the inaugural fellow at Columbia University’s new Center on Global Energy Policy.

And regime change is also underway at State: Assistant Secretary Andrew Shapiro — one of the holdovers from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s circle — is leaving soon. Which means Secretary of State Kerry will have a chance to bring in one of his own.

With Emily Heil

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