In the secretly captured audio recording of a campaign strategy session, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his staff didn't just prepare for potential challenger Ashley Judd. The five-term senator suggested he was also eager for a fight with the Louisville Courier-Journal.
"This is the whack-a-mole period of the campaign. When anybody sticks their head up, do them out," he told aides during a Feb. 2 meeting allegedly recorded by members of the small super PAC Progress Kentucky and published by Mother Jones earlier this month. "And we're even planning to do it with the Courier here shortly," McConnell continued, suggesting his campaign was prepared to tangle with the major home-state newspaper.
It appears that the Courier-Journal is also prepared to take on McConnell.
In an editorial published over the weekend, the paper took aim at McConnell, telling readers that the controversy over what the senator called a "Nixonian" recording undermines what the paper dubbed the "real story" of the "offensive content of the tape."
"It also offers audio of staff laughing about the prospect of exploiting actress Ashley Judd's bout with depression and childhood thoughts of suicide should she decide to run for U.S. Senate. (She didn’t.)," reads the editorial. "The contents of the audio are as despicable as they are damaging, leaving Mr. McConnell unable to defend them."
The piece goes on to suggest that the subsequent accusation against the left-leaning Progress Kentucky by a local Democratic Party official -- which that official has since partially retracted -- gave McConnell the perfect opportunity to play the victim, instead of being forced to address his own campaign's suggestion that it would be willing to attack an opponent's mental health and religion.
Although Judd decided not to challenge McConnell for his seat, she did respond to the recording last week, calling it "another example of the politics of personal destruction."
Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint against McConnell, asking the Senate ethics committee to investigate whether the strategy meeting was improper.
"Using taxpayer-funded resources to pay staffers to dig up dirt on political opponents isn't just an ethics violation, it's a federal crime," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said. "As Sen. McConnell requested, the FBI is investigating the recording. A thorough and fair investigation necessitates the bureau also inquire into whether Sen. McConnell himself violated the law."