FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The FBI has been asked to look into whether Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign headquarters was bugged after a recording of a private campaign meeting surfaced in which the senator and aides discussed ways to question the mental health of a potential opponent, actress Ashley Judd.
Mother Jones magazine published the recording of the February meeting in which McConnell aides discussed opposition research into potential Democratic challengers. Aides talked and laughed on the recording about Judd's political positions, religious beliefs and past bouts of depression. She later decided not to run.
"We've always said the left would stop at nothing to attack Senator McConnell, but Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters are above and beyond," said McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said in a statement Tuesday. "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. Obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Sen. McConnell's campaign office without consent. By whom and how that was accomplished presumably will be the subject of a criminal investigation."
Stephanie Collins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Louisville, declined to comment about the issue. The FBI in Louisville didn't immediately return a phone call, nor did the magazine. The magazine reported that the recording was provided last week by a source who requested anonymity.
On the recording posted on Mother Jones' website, McConnell began the meeting by telling aides the campaign had entered "the Whac-A-Mole period" and explained that means "when anybody sticks their head up, do them out."
Mother Jones said the aides huddled on Feb. 2 in a private meeting to discuss potential Democratic opponents, including Judd and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Grimes, a rising star within the Kentucky Democratic Party, hasn't ruled herself out as a challenger.
An unidentified aide said Judd had made a public statement as a Tennessee delegate to the national convention about her support of President Barack Obama, an unpopular political figure in Kentucky. The aide said that statement could be used against her. He also said the statement raised another issue: that Judd is a resident of Tennessee, not Kentucky.
A recording of Judd could then be heard in which she said "I am committed to President Obama and Vice President Biden. They're my candidates and I will be a surrogate in the campaign and do whatever I can ... "
An aide also charged that Judd is "clearly sort of anti-sort-of-traditional American family. ... She described having children as selfish, and she thinks it's unconscionable to breed. So you put that with what we'll talk to you later about — her sort of pro-choice stance — and it's sort of a, you know, pretty extreme posture to take."
The aide then plays a recording of Judd talking about her religious beliefs: "I still choose the God of my understanding as the God of my childhood. I have to expand my God concept from time to time, and you know particularly I enjoy native faith practices, and have a very nature-based God concept. I'd like to think I'm like St. Francis in that way. Brother Donkey, Sister Bird."
The campaign aides then laugh loudly.
An unidentified man then says "the people at Southeast Christian would take to the streets with pitchforks," referring to an evangelical megachurch in Louisville.
The aide finishes his narrative about Judd with a discussion about past mental health issues.
"She's clearly — this sounds extreme — but she is emotionally unbalanced," the aide said. "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."
"This is yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington DC," 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. Every day it becomes clearer how much we need change in Washington from this kind of rhetoric and actions."
In the discussion of Grimes, the aide said she had endorsed Obama.
"She was too smart to use his name in a sentence," the aide said. "But she says, 'my support of our party and our nominee is well known, and it's no secret I'll be in North Carolina to support our nominee and the party.'"
The aide charged that Grimes has "a very sort of self-centered, sort of egotistical aspect" and that "she'll frequently use herself in the third person."