(CNN) – The FBI has been asked to investigate how Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, obtained a recording of political aides meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell discussing opposition research on Ashley Judd, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said Tuesday.
In the recordings, political operatives huddling at the senator's
campaign headquarters in Kentucky, are heard discussing potentially
attacking Judd's mental health, as well as her left-leaning politics, if
she had decided to make a bid against McConnell, who's running for a
sixth term in office next year.
In a statement, McConnell campaign manager Benton said that "we've always said the Left will stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters is above and beyond."
Judd mulled a decision to jump into the race but announced late last month she would not pursue a Senate bid "at this time," deciding to focus on her family instead.
It's common for political campaigns to plot their offensives, and the secretly-recorded audio gives a glimpse of how McConnell's campaign might have pursued their attack strategy if Judd became a candidate.
"She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced," one staff member said in the tape. "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."
Judd has been public about her struggles and tension within her family, which includes her country legend mom, Naomi Judd, and her sister, Wynonna. She has openly described herself as a three-time survivor of rape and wrote in her autobiography about her troubled past growing up around drugs, alcohol and divorce.
Her website talks about her 2006 decision to enter an "intensive in patient treatment program" at Shades of Hope, a rehabilitation center in Texas, for "unresolved childhood grief that manifest as depression and codependency."
At the McConnell meeting, staff members and advisers mocked some of Judd's previous writings and statements. While they touched on Judd's emotional history, the meeting mostly focused on her political views as their would-be ammunition. They highlighted her support and campaigning for President Barack Obama, as well as her support for same-sex marriage and cap-and-trade policies. In the meeting, they described her as "anti-coal," which would be a big liability for Judd in coal country.
McConnell largely stayed quiet during the meeting but opened up at the beginning, saying it's best to get a head start on the opposition research.
"I assume most of you have played the, the game Whac-A-Mole?" (Laughter.) This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out," he said, adding they planned to take a similar approach with the local newspaper The Courier.
Evidence of the preemptive approach was a web video McConnell's campaign released in February, attacking Democrats for not yet fielding a candidate to challenge the Senate minority leader. The parody attempts to depict President Barack Obama as being frustrated with the potential crop of Democratic contenders in Kentucky, including Judd.
Judd also saw attacks from American Crossroads, the conservative super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove. The group spent $10,000 on a web ad earlier this week, lambasting Judd for her declared allegiance to Obama, and her love of Tennessee, the state neighboring Kentucky where she's lived for years.
"This is just a fun way to kind of get under her skin a little bit and kind of show her what a campaign would really be like if she makes this decision," Jonathan Collegio, the communications director for American Crossroads, told CNN at the time.