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McConnell Office bugged FBI to review

April 9, 2013

Mitch McConnell

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign team on Tuesday asked the FBI and U.S. attorney to investigate whether its headquarters was bugged after a secretly taped recording was posted by Mother Jones.

On the tape, McConnell’s aides discuss attacking actress-activist Ashley Judd for her struggles with depression and views on several topics, including religion.

Judd, who was considering a Senate bid in Kentucky, said in late March that she would not run for the Democratic nomination in 2014 to take on McConnell.

“We’ve always said the left would stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters are above and beyond,” said Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager. “Obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Sen. McConnell’s office without consent. By whom and how that was accomplished presumably will be the subject of a criminal investigation.”

McConnell sounded similar themes when talking to reporters on Capitol Hill.

“Last month, they were attacking my wife’s ethnicity. And unbeknownst to me, they were bugging my headquarters in Nixonian fashion,” McConnell said. “That what the political left does these days.”

Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, said it obtained the recording of a Feb. 2 meeting last week from a source who requested anonymity. David Corn, the author of the Mother Jones story, said in a statement that the magazine was “not involved in the making of the tape” and rejected the characterization of “Watergate-style” tactics.

On the tape, a McConnell aide is heard saying about Judd: “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.”

McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, is heard on the tape at the beginning of the meeting, in which a wide variety of opposition research on Judd is discussed. USA TODAY has not independently verified the tape.

Among other things, McConnell’s aides are heard talking about Judd’s support for President Obama, her opposition to coal mining, support for an energy policy known as “cap and trade,” and her views on abortion and religion. One McConnell aide says Judd is critical of “traditional Christianity,” according to the tape and transcript posted by the liberal magazine.

“This is yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington, D.C.,” Judd’s spokeswoman, Cara Tripicchio, said in a statement.

“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 Judd statement continued. “Every day it becomes clearer how much we need change in Washington from this kind of rhetoric and actions.”

Corn said he and the magazine are still waiting for McConnell to comment on the “substance of the story.” He said he contacted McConnell’s Senate and campaign offices and, specifically, Benton and received no response.

“As the story makes clear, we were recently provided the tape by a source who wished to remain anonymous,” Corn said. “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. We cannot comment beyond that.”

Some of the research on Judd came from her 2011 memoir, All That is Bitter and Sweet, in which she wrote about her struggle with depression and how she had contemplated suicide in sixth grade. In 2006, she entered a 42-day treatment program at a rehab facility in Texas.

“I would have died without it,” Judd told People magazine in 2011.

By early afternoon Tuesday, McConnell’s team turned the leaked tape into a fundraising opportunity.They posted a message on their website that read in part: “Breaking: Liberals wiretap McConnell office.”

Mother Jones created a splash in the 2012 presidential campaign when it obtained a secretly taped video of Mitt Romney, in which the GOP nominee says 47% of Americans are dependent on the federal government for assistance and would not vote for him in any case. Romney, who apologized repeatedly for what he called an “unfortunate” statement, has said the tape “hurt and did real damage” to his campaign.

Democrats have yet to find a top-tier candidate to run against McConnell in 2014. Judd has vowed she would help the party’s eventual nominee in the campaign to defeat the GOP leader, who is seeking a sixth term.

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