Did somebody bug Mitch McConnell's campaign office?

The Week
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is accusing liberals of Nixonian tactics.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is accusing liberals of Nixonian tactics.

The Senate minority leader accuses the "political left" of using "Watergate-style tactics"

Mother Jones, the liberal magazine that exposed Mitt Romney's now-infamous "47 percent" remarks, is making waves with another leaked tape. This time, reporter David Corn got his hands on a private Feb. 2 conversation in which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his aides discuss attack strategies they could use against actress Ashley Judd if she decided to challenge the Kentucky Republican when he runs for re-election next year (she has since said she won't run).

On the tape, McConnell's aides can be heard deliberating the option of making her mental health an issue. One aide describes Judd as "emotionally unbalanced" with "suicidal tendencies," a reference to time Judd spent in a rehabilitation center for depression. (Judd recounted the episode in her memoir.)

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McConnell campaign aides are demanding a criminal investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine if somebody secretly bugged their offices. "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," said campaign manager Jesse Benton. The FBI has confirmed that it will look into the matter.

Mother Jones denies any wrongdoing, saying, " We were not involved in the making of the tape, but we published a story on the tape due to its obvious newsworthiness. It is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation. We cannot comment beyond that."

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The tape itself isn't a shocker by Washington standards. It shows "the McConnell team debating the use of tactics that are nasty but not that unusual by oppo research standards," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. The McConnell camp's suggestion that it was the victim of wiretapping, however, is quite a bombshell.

The suggestion by the McConnell campaign that Mother Jones engaged in "Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters" is intriguing; it constitutes a suggestion that Mother Jones broke the law... It's a serious charge, and if it were made without evidence by the campaign of the Senate minority leader — perhaps the most powerful Republican elected official the country — it's a big deal. [Washington Post]

Somebody is in trouble here. But could the taping be illegal?

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"It depends on who did the recording," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. "If the person was a participant in the meeting and willingly gave it to Corn, then arguably … no. Federal law (in general) allows for that kind of recording even in private conversation, and Kentucky is a single-person consent state for recordings. Under those circumstances, the recording participant wouldn’t have to alert any of the other parties to the recording."

However, Daniel Halper reports at The Weekly Standard that the odds are "very, very slim" that one of the 10 or so people involved in the meeting leaked the recording.

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Some see the McConnell camp's aggressive response to the tape as a way to deflect questions about his campaign tactics. When asked by reporters about the contents of the tape, McConnell returned to the same talking point: The "political left" is trying to smear him. 

"This is McConnell's fightback story," says David Weigel at Slate.

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