Caught on tape planning how to run against potential opponent Ashley Judd, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is sidestepping questions about whether it was appropriate for his team to discuss Judd’s mental state (and whether or not such personal issues should be fair game for political attacks).
Mother Jones magazine released secretly recorded audio tapes Tuesday that disclose McConnell’s campaign staff considering using his then-potential Democratic opponent’s battles with depression and her religious views against her. McConnell would not address how seriously he was considering a possible smear campaign, instead focusing on how the tapes may have been recorded.
In remarks to reporters, McConnell insisted the tapes could only have been recorded by someone surreptitiously ”bugging” his office, without providing any proof his office was bugged. He also called the move “Nixonian.”
But Democrats aren’t buying that argument, demanding McConnell apologize for using taxpayer-funding legislature aides for “campaign opposition research” and saying the tapes prove “Mitch McConnell is the living, breathing embodiment of everything that is wrong with Washington.”
“Mitch McConnell is desperate to play the victim,” the DSCC said in a statement. “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, but its content is a clear example of how Mitch McConnell is the living, breathing embodiment of everything that is wrong with Washington. 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.”
David Corn, who broke the story for Mother Jones, points out that McConnell’s staff made no efforts to question the source of the tapes when he reached out to the campaign a day before publishing the story.
“We never heard from them and even today after all this, he won’t respond to the substance of the story.”
Corn insists that while he cannot reveal his source, he and the Mother Jones team vetted the tapes for authenticity. He also notes that his team has no reason to believe that the tape was “a product of any Watergate-style bugging operation.”
“For Mitch McConnell and Jesse Benton, his campaign manager, to say that, well it’s just wrong, and it’s just a way to dodge the issue,” he added.
Corn says the real scandal is over McConnell’s refusal to denounce the type of attack, either on the tapes or subsequently.
The Cycle’s Krystal Ball agreed. “The two things that are most telling are McConnell’s at best silence in that room,” she said. “And his silence now. He’s still unwilling to say ‘that would be over the line.’”
“I just think it’s unbelievable that anyone would think that that is an appropriate place to go in a campaign,” she said.