GOP Senator Mitch McConnell Must Resign – He + His Entire Campaign Staff Laugh when Talking About Potential Rival Ashley Judd’s “Suicidal Tendencies”

April 9, 2013

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Sen. Mitch McConnell’s staff laughs about exploiting Ashley Judd over her mental health battles in recording

Apr. 9, 2013 7:09 PM   |

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Sen. McConnell campaign manager talks about secret…: Mitch McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton talks about the audio recording released by Mother Jones magazine where McConnell campaign workers talk strategy about Ashley Judd.

Written by

Joseph Gerth

The Courier-Journal

With U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in the room, his campaign staffers laughed as they discussed ways to exploit Ashley Judd’s mental health battles and to attack his other potential foes, according to anaudio recording published by Mother Jones magazine.

In response, McConnell accused left-wing groups of “Watergate-style” bugging to obtain the taped conversations, and his campaign said it had reported the incident to the FBI. His campaign did not dispute the recording’s authenticity.

Mother Jones denied that the recording, made during a Feb. 2 meeting at McConnell’s Louisville campaign headquarters, was the product of a “bugging operation.” It said the recording was furnished by an anonymous source.

During the almost 12-minute recording, McConnell can be heard telling staffers that he will attack any political opponent who “sticks their head up” and added that there were plans to attack The Courier-Journal, whose editorial board has criticized him.

At the time of the meeting, Judd was still considering a Democratic bid to unseat McConnell, a five-term incumbent, in Kentucky’s 2014 Senate race. She has since announced that she will not run.

An unidentified male voice on the tape can be heard saying: “She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced. I mean it’s been documented. Jesse (Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager) can go in chapter and verse from her autobiography about, you know, she’s suffered some suicidal tendencies.”

McConnell’s campaign staff also talked about using Judd’s religious beliefs and residency issues against her, and they talked about political positions she has taken on issues, ranging from mountaintop removal to abortion.

One staff member also criticized Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is also being encouraged to run, and described her as self-centered.

Judd, who decided two weeks ago not to seek the Democratic nomination, blasted McConnell’s campaign tactics in an emailed statement Tuesday.

Written by

Joseph Gerth

The Courier-Journal

“This is yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington, D.C.,” she said.

“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.”

Lynn Zellen, a spokeswoman for Grimes, said the secretary couldn’t be reached for comment.

McConnell’s camp tried to push attention onto “left-wing activists.” Besides the FBI, it said it had reported the recording incident to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Louisville.

“Today’s developments … go far beyond anything I’ve seen in American politics and are comparable only to Richard Nixon’s efforts to bug Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate 40 years ago,” Benton said in a prepared statement.

“These kind of illegal immoral tactics have no place in our society and must not be tolerated by a free people,” Benton said.

Mother Jones updated its website later Tuesday to say that the McConnell campaign’s claim is inaccurate. The magazine said it “is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation. We cannot comment beyond that.”

The magazine also broke the story about the recording of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney complaining about the 47 percent of Americans who he said wouldn’t consider voting for him.

Meanwhile, the Public Campaign Action Fund questioned whether McConnell violated federal law or Senate ethics rules by having legislative aides do research on his potential opponents.

“If Mitch McConnell used his Senate staff and government resources to do opposition research into the health and religious beliefs of a potential challenger, not only would it likely be a violation of Senate ethics rules and federal law, it’s also a violation of common decency. Kentucky voters deserve better,” said David Donnelly, executive director of the group, which opposes McConnell on a number of issues including campaign finance reform.

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report, said she doesn’t believe the comments made by McConnell and his staff would harm his re-election efforts, unless it can be proved that he used federal employees to conduct opposition research.

Federal law and Senate rules both prohibit federal employees from working in campaigns on government time and property, but nothing would prevent a federal employee from working on a campaign during their off-hours or outside federal offices.

Benton refused to discuss any legislative aide’s role after questions on the issue were both emailed to him and asked of him after he made a short statement.

Duffy said most incumbent campaigns attack potential foes early in an effort to discredit them as McConnell suggested. She also noted that Judd’s struggle with depression is well-documented by Judd herself.

According to the recording, McConnell likened his early campaign to the carnival game “Whac-A-Mole,” in which participants strike an animated mole when it pops its head out of its hole.

“When anybody sticks their head up, do them out, and we’re even planning to do it with the Courier here shortly,” McConnell said in the recording.

The campaign refused to answer questions about what, if anything, it had done or planned to do to attack the newspaper.

The only effort by McConnell supporters to attack the newspaper came within two weeks of the meeting, when former Courier-Journal op-ed columnist John David Dyche quit after editorial director Pam Platt rejected one of his columns highly critical of the newspaper.

Dyche, who is also McConnell’s biographer, then gave interviews to a radio station and website in which he was highly critical of the newspaper.

Dyche said in an interview Tuesday that there was no coordination with McConnell, his campaign staff, senate staff or anyone else associated with McConnell prior to the Feb. 2 meeting and that no one, other than Dyche himself, knew what was in the rejected column before he submitted it Feb. 11.

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Most of the recording deals with Judd, who was the focus of many Kentucky Democrats before she decided not to run.

“She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the ’90s,” a voice says in the recording.

People in the recording could be heard laughing when the voice spoke of the mental issues.

In a media availability following a closed-door GOP luncheon in Washington on Tuesday, McConnell refused to answer whether it was appropriate for his campaign to make Judd’s struggles with depression a “potential campaign issue.”

Three times, McConnell refused to answer, trying to deflect attention to what he said was an attack earlier this year on his wife’s ethnicity. “And then they apparently also bugged my headquarters. So I think that pretty well sums up the way the political left is operating in Kentucky,” he said.

After being pressed to answer the question, McConnell said, “We’re going to move to another subject.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, however, called on McConnell to apologize and suggested the leaked recording came from someone on the right side of the political spectrum.

“Mitch McConnell is desperate to play the victim. The DSCC doesn’t know if this tape came from a disgruntled Senate staffer who was forced to dig up dirt on their boss’ potential opponents or another source,” the statement said.

“It is beneath the office of minority leader to engage in this kind of trivial politics. He should apologize to the millions of Americans who suffer from depression and don’t believe it’s a laughing matter.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called on liberal groups to publicly state they had nothing to do with the recording. “This ‘anything to win: laws and rules be damned’ mentality has to stop. I hope that Leaders (Harry) Reid and (Chuck) Schumer will join me in condemning these tactics.”

 

 

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