Secret McConnell Tape Records Politicians Being Politicial

Mother Jones's recording of a secret McConnell campaign strategy meeting is much less than meets the eye.

mitch-mcconnell-hand

David Corn at Mother Jones seems to have some kind of proclivity for secret records. He was, after all, the person who ended up making public the tape of Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” speech to campaign donors back during the Presidential campaign. Now, he’s out today with another secret recording of Mitch McConnell and a group of advisers, well, doing what any politician would do:

Aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed attacking Ashley Judd’s mental health if the actress had opted to challenge the Kentuckian in 2014, according to a secret audio recording.

“She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced,” a McConnell aide says on the recording, which was obtained and posted by the liberal magazine Mother Jones. “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 himself is heard speaking at the beginning of the meeting, which features aides presenting a whole range of opposition research they were considering using against Judd. At one point, a person describes “a wealth of material” to use potentially against Judd, prompting laughter from those present.

The veteran senator invokes an old arcade game to describe the campaign’s strategy for dealing with challengers.

“I assume most of you have played the, the game Whac-A-Mole?,” he said to laughter. “This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.

Most of the discussion focuses on Judd’s liberal positions, including support for gay marriage and President Barack Obama’s health care reform law. It is unclear how long McConnell was present during the session, which took place on Feb. 2 in Louisville, Ky.

The McConnell campaign has responded to the report by requesting that the FBI investigate the recording:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign asked the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office on Tuesday to investigate how Mother Jones magazine obtained a recording of a February strategy session.

“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,” McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton 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.”

Added a source close to the campaign: “We’re going on the assumption that a crime has been committed. No one at the meeting leaked this.”

That would seem to be a logical assumption. After all, why would a Republican be leaking anything to a left-wing website like Mother Jones?  And if there was a crime committed, then it ought to be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted.

That’s separate, to some degree, from the question of what the big deal out of all this actually is. Reading through Drum’s original report, and listening to a few of the recordings, this strikes me as no different from any other conversation that any other campaign would be having about a prospective opponent, especially one with a record as, well, colorful as Judd’s was at the time. It’s worth remembering, after all, that at the time McConnell and his aides were having this meeting, Judd was considered a serious contender for the Democratic nomination, was being touted as national Democrats as a candidate, and was being personally urged by prominent Democrats to through he hat into the ring. At the time, there were plenty of Kentucky Democrats who were reportedly not quite as enthusiastic about a potential Judd candidacy because they realized just how of step she was with the state’s voters. From these tapes, we get a preview of the rich amount of material that McConnell and those supporting him would have had in going after Judd. For that reason, Democrats should be glad she decided not to run.

More broadly, though, I really have to wonder what Corn thought he was accomplishing here. This is how politics works. As much as people claim to dislike it, negative campaigning works. It always has been and it always will be. Politicians will always look for vulnerabilities in the opponent’s record and will exploit them during the course of a campaign if they think they can get away with it. Had Judd ctually run for the Senate, the McConnell campaign would have been foolish not to dive into the rich treasure trove of her previous comments and policy positions. The conversation that is on these recordings is no different from ones that have occurred in countless campaign offices over the years. The only different this time is that someone managed to record it. Beyond there, there really isn’t anything remarkable here.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2014, Congress, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Kevin Drum? No, David Corn.

  2. @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    Yea. My mistake.

  3. legion says:

    Added a source close to the campaign: “We’re going on the assumption that a crime has been committed. No one at the meeting leaked this.”

    That would seem to be a logical assumption.

    I wouldn’t necessarily agree… was there assumption of a crime when Romney’s “47%” tape was leaked? I realize that was at a more-public venue, but I’m certain everyone in the campaign assumed nobody at a Romney fundraiser would leak something like that either.

  4. mantis says:

    More broadly, though, I really have to wonder what Corn thought he was accomplishing here. This is how politics works.

    Maybe what he thought he was accomplishing was reporting on how politics works. He is, after all, a reporter.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    Yes.
    Definitely.
    This is how politics works.
    How do we know that?
    People like David Corn, who are called journalists, report on it happening.
    Other people, called citizens, gain insight to their political sytem by reading the journalism produced by people like David Corn.
    I for one am glad David Corn doesn’t stop to consider whatever it is you think before he commits journalism.

  6. anjin-san says:

    Well, if we keep talking about fairly trivial things like this, we can avoid talking about the rapidly recovering real estate market and the fully recovered stock market.

    Stay tuned for the next “THE SKY IS FALLING!!” post when next months jobs numbers come out.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    {FLASHBACK to July 1972}

    Doug Mataconis: Some burglars broke into the RNC headquarters last night. This is how politics works. I don’t know what these guys, Woodward and Berstein, think they are accomplishing.”

  8. stonetools says:

    @mantis:

    He is, after all, a reporter.

    And a darned good one. Would that we had a hundred like him.
    I’ll agree that there is nothing more here than sausage making, but its informative to see the sausage made sometimes.

    Sounds like its a good move by Ashley Judd to forgo this race. Her talents are better served fundraising for the Democrats and her favorite causes. Nothing wrong with that.

  9. legion says:

    And am I the only one who sees that pic of McConnell and thinks for a moment he’s giving the “Black Power” salute?

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Remember back when “Baghdad” Jim McDermott obtained a similar sort of recording during the Gingrich years? Ultimately McDermott was dragged through the court system and in the final analysis, a decade or so later, ordered to pay John Boehner a huge sum of fees (it might have been seven figures, IIRC) as a de facto penalty for his efforts. Of course wealthy liberals stepped up and settled McDermott’s debt on his behalf. And after a day or two of sheer idiocy on the left-wing Internet (BIRM), the matter was forgotten.

    This could be a case of deja vu all over again. We’ll see. Time will tell.

    Certainly had this happened in California there would be severe criminal, quasi-criminal and civil sanctions afoot. As is the case in many other jurisdictions here in CA it’s flatly illegal to engage in these types of recordings without direct consent. There’s not even an exception for liberals and other political riff raff.

    Lastly, on a related topic, given the demographics of the Internet the neon elephant in the room will be missed, but it’s worth in any case mentioning. Imagine if the extreme left-wing such as David Corn and Mother Jones and Co. devoted 1/1000th of the energy they devote in trying to destroy the GOP into actually doing something to improve the country, in general, and specifically to improving the dire plights of their “favored” classes. You know, like trying to reduce poverty in the big Democrat inner cities. Or trying to help reduce unplanned and unwanted teen pregancies among poor racial minorities. Or trying to improve the failing schools in big liberal Democrat cities. Or trying to reduce rampant unemployment among “the youth vote” demographic. So on, so forth. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    That would seem to be a logical assumption. After all, why would a Republican be leaking anything to a left-wing website like Mother Jones? And if there was a crime committed, then it ought to be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted.

    Oh come off it Doug. I can think of a thousand reasons why one Republican would want to do in another.

  12. mantis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

    How stupid you are? No, we’re used to it.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    So Tsar thinks reporting is tantamount to “trying to destroy”.
    And he/she thinks that instead, David Corn should spend his energy…and I assume, money…as some sort of un-elected-extra-legislative-official pursueing policies that actual real elected Republican law-makers have never embraced…but would suddenly…because…well…it’s David Corn dammit.
    Does anyone actually believe this dim-witted clown is an actual practicing attorney that managed to pass the Bar and everything?

  14. Gustopher says:

    @mantis: It certainly boggles his mind.

  15. Gustopher says:

    From these tapes, we get a preview of the rich amount of material that McConnell and those supporting him would have had in going after Judd. For that reason, Democrats should be glad she decided not to run.

    I wanted the Republicans to waste a bit more time and money on Ashley Judd — it’s a shame she announced her intention not to run so early. Every dollar spent attacking her (as Crossroads had begun doing) was a dollar that could have been doing something productive.

    (Also, I love Sarah Palin, for much the same reason — she’s a grifter who takes money that might otherwise be used productively for Republicans)

  16. stonetools says:

    So an investigative reporter practicing journalism= destroying the country.

    Well, we know how at least one conservative views a free press.

    @C. Clavin:

    Does anyone actually believe this dim-witted clown is an actual practicing attorney that managed to pass the Bar and everything?

    I know some attorneys. Unfortunately, yes.

  17. Andre Kenji says:

    @Gustopher:

    I wanted the Republicans to waste a bit more time and money on Ashley Judd — it’s a shame she announced her intention not to run so early. Every dollar spent attacking her (as Crossroads had begun doing) was a dollar that could have been doing something productive.

    The point here is another woman, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Secretary of State, that Bill Clinton wants to challenge McConnell for the Senate. She has real potential,she is the kind of Democrat that can win in heavily red states. Many Democrats wants to take her out of the way, maybe others see future potential on her.

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    I´m no fan o Ashley Judd, but messing with mental illness is a low point. That´s make Mr. Tortoise even more unsympathetic to me.

  19. Rob in CT says:

    They’re never going to top the Romney 47% tape. But that was a hit, so why not try going back to that well?

  20. inhumans99 says:

    Isn’t this whole recording kerfuffle reminiscent of when that guy video taped a bunch of acorn pimps offering up their children to be some dudes personal maid (chef / masseuse / whatever), as long as he voted for Obama…yes?

    The right laughed at the left when we were all…dude, not cool, you recorded people without their knowledge, now we do the same thing to some members of their team, and they are all…dude, not cool, you recorded people without their knowledge. Next, someone is going to regale me with the knowledge that water is wet. What comes around goes around, such is politics (or as James is fond of pointing out…politics ain’t beanbag).

  21. refn says:

    There should be surveillance cameras with audio in every nook and cranny of every single room and office where any of these scum politicians congregate. And everything they say should be used against them.

  22. alkali says:

    From these tapes, we get a preview of the rich amount of material that McConnell and those supporting him would have had in going after Judd. For that reason, Democrats should be glad she decided not to run.

    Depends on what you mean by “material.”

    If the tape recorded McConnell and his compatriots crowing over their recent discovery that Judd secretly owned a pollution factory that was staffed by illegal immigrant children, everyone would recognize that that would be genuinely disqualifying stuff, and McConnell wouldn’t be blustering around today making excuses and yelping about the FBI.

    What the tape actually suggests is that there is nothing really disqualifying in Judd’s past except to the extent that McConnell et al. were willing to twist it to smear her. That’s why it looks so bad for him.

    I for one am sorry that she did not run.

  23. edmondo says:

    And if there was a crime committed, then it ought to be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted.

    The only real crime being committeed is what the Republicans are doing to this country.

  24. Neil Hudelson says:

    Caption. McConnell demonstrating how tall he is once he recedes back into his shell

  25. Jeremy R says:

    … why would a Republican be leaking anything to a left-wing website like Mother Jones?

    Well, that depends on when the tapes were first shopped around. If it was before Judd dropped out then it could have been a way of injecting discussion of her mental health into the media coverage and also McConnell would have been able to do exactly what he did today — excite his base and raise money off of an evidence free conspiracy theory.

    Sort of like w/ Joe Lieberman, when he was running for reelection as an independent, and with zero evidence he accused the supporters of his democratic opponent of bringing down his website. He then spent the final week of the campaign demanding repudiations from his opponent, and throwing about claims of dirty tricks. After Lieberman won reelection it was discovered the site went down because he hadn’t paid his hosting fees.

  26. Justinian says:

    What goes around comes around. I knew someone once who said he would just love to have a bug in the company president’s office so as to be able to hear what was said there. He didn’t realize that if the employees get to bug the president, the president certainly will have bugs in all the employee’s offices.

    This event cannot be compared with the gaffe by Mitt Romney. When you speak before an auditorium full of people, you cannot presume your words will be contained within that room. When, though, political strategists or anyone else meet in a private room together, they have a reasonable expecation of privacy.

    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When the executives at Mother Jones magazine are happy to have their offices bugged so that their political opponents can make hay over what is said there, then, and only then, will I believe that David Corn, the reporter, is even acting fairly. Provided that Mr. Corn or other operatives did indeed plant a bug in a politician’s office, then they are propelling this country to the world of Big Brother that none of us wants. As I said, what goes around comes around.

  27. David M says:

    @Justinian:

    I don’t think it’s been established that this was the result of a bug, it sounds like one of the participants recorded the meeting.

  28. Jeremy R says:

    @Justinian:

    When the executives at Mother Jones magazine are happy to have their offices bugged so that their political opponents can make hay over what is said there, then, and only then, will I believe that David Corn, the reporter, is even acting fairly. Provided that Mr. Corn or other operatives did indeed plant a bug in a politician’s office, then they are propelling this country to the world of Big Brother that none of us wants.

    So apparently the tinfoil hat brigade has gone from McConnell’s BS conspiracy theory that “the political left” must have bugged his office, to David Corn bugging a sitting US senator’s office. Riiight.

  29. Andre Kenji says:

    @inhumans99:

    Isn’t this whole recording kerfuffle reminiscent of when that guy video taped a bunch of acorn pimps offering up their children to be some dudes personal maid (chef / masseuse / whatever), as long as he voted for Obama…yes?

    No, in part because the main problem of the ACORN tapes was that the accusation was a fantasy and that a lot of normal, common people, lost their job.

  30. de stijl says:

    why would a Republican be leaking anything to a left-wing website like Mother Jones?

    Doug,

    Are you sure you’re an actual DC analyst? Does GM Law mint naive lawyers? Ideology and expediency are two very different beasts. If you believe that ideology precludes expediency, you’re sorely mistaken. Have you never heard of Eric Cantor?

    They’re US Senators – These folks would would deny their mothers for another six years at the trough – they make middle school mean girls look like creepy-nice Mormons.

  31. Jeremy R says:

    @inhumans99:

    Isn’t this whole recording kerfuffle reminiscent of when that guy video taped a bunch of acorn pimps offering up their children to be some dudes personal maid (chef / masseuse / whatever), as long as he voted for Obama…yes?

    The right laughed at the left when we were all…dude, not cool, you recorded people without their knowledge, now we do the same thing to some members of their team, and they are all…dude, not cool, you recorded people without their knowledge.

    Actually… McConnell’s fantasy about his office being bugged by “the political left” does bear some resemblance to the O’Keefe caper that earned him a guilty ruling in federal court. That’s when he impersonated a telephone repairmen in Senator Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office in an attempt to gain access to the telephone wiring closet and record from her phone system.

  32. NickTamere says:

    If you listen to the audio you can hear rustling noises, it sounds like it was recording using a cell phone in someone’s pocket; considering the brainpower of the crew we’re dealing with here I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that this recording was a voicemail left by someone in the room pocket-dialing. I’m willing to bet that an FBI investigation turns up nothing and that any of the GOP supporters who “logically” supported this once again won’t apologize for being wrong nor will they take McConnell to task for his incorrect allegations. Anyone want to take that wager?

  33. NickTamere says:

    “Baghdad” Jim McDermott

    Trying to remember what earned him that monicker, didn’t he get it from claiming that the Iraq war was being launched under false pretenses and that they had no WMD? What a silly unserious person.

  34. Ken says:

    On the one hand, all of the political stuff in this recording seems like pretty run of the mill oppo stuff – in other words, a big old nothingburger

    On the other hand, he did say this: “I’ll just preface my comments that this reflects the work of a lot of folks: Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, a lot of LAs”

    If those legislative assistants (“lots” of them, including Maxon) were doing this opposition research during Senate hours, that’s a violation of Senate ethics rules. I wonder if the investigation will include looking into that, as well as who made the recording

  35. Septimius says:

    @NickTamere:

    No. McDermott earned that moniker in 2002 when he went on a trip to Iraq (secretly paid for by Iraq’s Intelligence Agency) in order to give support to the regime of a murderous dictator. Glad I could clear that up for you.

  36. NickTamere says:

    @Septimius: I’m not seeing any documentation that he gave support to Saddam’s regime, can you provide a cite?