UPDATED 5:11 p.m. ET
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said partisan attacks are behind audio published Tuesday morning by liberal news website Mother Jones of the Kentucky Republican privately discussing his 2014 re-election campaign with aides.
“Last month they were attacking my wife’s ethnicity, and then apparently unbeknownst to us at the time they were bugging our headquarters, a quite Nixonian move. This is what you get from the political left in America these days,” McConnell told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday.
The audio and transcripts—billed as a "secret tape" by Mother Jones Washington Bureau chief David Corn—show the McConnell camp discussing how to use potential Democratic challenger Ashley Judd's religious beliefs and history of depression against her in a campaign.
The actress announced March 27 that she would not be a candidate for the Senate, citing family obligations.
McConnell's team believes Mother Jones obtained the tape illegally and has asked the FBI to investigate. Mother Jones released a statement Tuesday saying the tape is from a source who wished to remain anonymous and that the news outlet was not involved in making it.
"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," Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager, said in a statement. "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.”
Benton added, "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."
Less than two hours later, the McConnell campaign was fundraising off the incident. "Liberals and their media allies have hit a new low in their smears against our campaign, wiretapping our field office to spy on us ... I need your help to fight back against these illegal and underhanded tactics," Benton wrote in a fundraising email.
Mother Jones said it gave McConnell's office a chance to respond to the tape before it was published but didn't hear back.
"We are still waiting for Sen. Mitch McConnell to comment on the substance of the story," Mother Jones' statement read. "It is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation."
During the discussion of Judd's mental health on the tape, one individual remarked that "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 and his aides on the tape also poked fun at a reference Judd made about St. Francis, a revered Catholic saint, and other religious statements.
"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 widely circulated 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. Every day it becomes clearer how much we need change in Washington from this kind of rhetoric and actions."
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Tuesday attempted to turn the news around on McConnell, calling on him to apologize for using taxpayer funded legislative aides for campaign opposition research. (Legislative and campaign activities are required by law to be separately funded.)
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mother Jones also famously revealed secretly recorded comments made by Republican hopeful Mitt Romney, where he said 47 percent of Americans were dependent on government and refused to take "personal responsibility" for their lives. Romney later apologized.