Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused the "political left" of bugging his headquarters on Tuesday, blasting the "Nixonian" tactics of whoever recorded and distributed audio of McConnell and his aides discussing a prospective Democratic opponents, including Ashley Judd.
The tape, which according to Mother Jones was recorded on February 2 and provided to the publication by a source who required anonymity, captures the senator's aides discussing opposition research on Judd, the actress and activist who was at the time considering challenging McConnell for his Senate seat. (She has since decided not to run.) Among the topics presented as possible campaign fodder include Judd's struggle with depression and her religious views.
Asked whether Judd's struggle with depression and her religious conviction are fair game for a political attack, McConnell sidestepped the question and instead recalled an incident last month when a liberal group in Kentucky attacked his wife's Asian heritage, portraying this most recent incident as more of the same.
"As you know, last month my wife's ethnicity was attacked by a left-wing group in Kentucky and then apparently they also bugged my headquarters," he said. "So I think that pretty well sums up the way the political left is operating in Kentucky."
McConnell was asked twice more whether his discussion of Judd's emotional state and religion was appropriate. He declined to answer directly, twice repeating what he said about the criticism of his wife as well as his bugging allegation.
Mother Jones released a statement noting that while the publication was "not involved in the making of the tape," it was "our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation."
"We are still waiting for Sen. Mitch McConnell to comment on the substance of the story," the Mother Jones statement reads. "Before posting this article, we contacted his Senate office and his campaign office--in particular, his campaign manager, Jesse Benton--and no one responded. As the story makes clear, we were recently provided the tape by a source who wished to remain anonymous. We were not involved in the making of the tape, but we published a story on the tape due to its obvious newsworthiness."
McConnell's office is already using the flap to raise money for the senator's reelection bid, constructing a page on his campaign website headlined "Breaking: Liberals Wiretap McConnell Office" and asking supporters to "stand with Senator McConnell against the liberal media's illegal and underhanded tactics."
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also released a statement decrying the incident: ""Secret recordings, private conversations leaked, reports of bugs - these Watergate-era tactics have no place in our campaigns. I am glad to read Senator McConnell's campaign is working with the Department of Justice and the FBI to find answers."
McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said Benton told CBSNews.com that the campaign is "working with the FBI" to discern the source of the recording, and he suggested there might be a subsequent criminal investigation.
McConnell's Democratic counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was asked about the tape on Tuesday afternoon. He said simply, "I know I had nothing to do with it."