Day two of the Mitch McConnell secret tape story, in which the senator and his aides talked freely about targeting Ashley Judd’s mental health if she decided to run against him, is not about defense, but offense. Right away, McConnell’s office alleged the leak of the recordings to David Corn at Mother Jones was the result of “Nixonian tactics to bug campaign headquarters,” not an inside job, and called for an FBI investigation. Today they stepped up that rhetoric: “This is Gestapo kind of scare tactics,” campaign manager Jesse Benton told Mike Huckabee on the radio. “The FBI is taking this very seriously. They were at our office for about an hour today. They tell us that they’re running down some leads.”
While no evidence that the office was bugged has been made public, the outraged grandstanding has managed to shift the conversation from the ugly political realities of the closed-door meeting to a witch hunt against the liberal media. Team Mitch is even using the news as a call-to-arms for fund-raising, declaring, “BREAKING: LIBERALS WIRETAP MCCONNELL OFFICE.”
Benton also discounted the possibility that the tape came from a disgruntled staffer: “It was a very small group,” he said. “And I can say with the utmost certainty that this did not come from anybody inside of our campaign.”
“We’re very glad that the FBI is so quick to address this,” he added. “We’re going to make sure that this is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” Even so, Mother Jones likely has nothing to worry about as long as it did not do the alleged bugging. “If the news media lawfully obtain truthful information about a matter of public significance, then the government may not constitutionally punish publication of the information,” a law professor explained to Erik Wemple of the Washington Post.
In a statement yesterday, the magazine said, “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. It is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation.” (For what it’s worth, even James O’Keefe doubts it was a bug.)
If anyone is being Nixonian here, it’s McConnell, who knows that aggressively targeting the press can be a winning tactic — for a while, at least.