Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused opponents Tuesday of bugging his headquarters and asked for an FBI investigation after a recording from an internal campaign meeting surfaced in a magazine report.
The 12-minute audiotape released by Mother Jones magazine reveals McConnell and his campaign staff at a Feb. 2 meeting lampooning actress Ashley Judd — then a potential Senate candidate — and comparing her to “a haystack of needles” because of her potential political liabilities. 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,” campaign manager Jesse Benton said in a statement.
An FBI spokesman confirmed that the agency was investigating the incident following a report filed by McConnell’s office.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, McConnell sought to tie the recording to an earlier attack by a liberal group 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,” he said.
The McConnell campaign added a page to its Web site Tuesday asking supporters to “stand with Senator McConnell against the liberal media’s illegal and underhanded tactics.” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called on the Democratic National Committee and other liberal-leaning groups to denounce the recordings.
Many Democrats, however, characterized the demands as overblown. Matt Canter, deputy executive director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on Twitter that he had no knowledge of the recording but that McConnell “is desperate to play the victim.”
In the recording, McConnell vows to treat Judd and other potential opponents like targets in the game “Whac-a-Mole” while a staffer lays out various attacks on Judd as a liberal Hollywood star out of touch with conservative Kentucky voters. Someone in the recording also says that Judd’s mental health could become an issue in the campaign because of her past struggles with depression.
Judd condemned the recording Tuesday as “yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington.”
In a statement, Mother Jones magazine said it was “not involved in the making of the tape” but added, “it is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation.”
Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.
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