When Mitch McConnell and his advisers told reporters that the “professional Left” was behind a “Nixonian” ploy to bug his campaign headquarters and leak the tape of an opposition-research session, most observers interpreted the charge as clever spin. McConnell’s team had taken a routine but unsavory story — his campaign weighing how to bury prospective opponent Ashley Judd — and turned it into a masterful display of umbrage-taking.
McConnell pointed the finger Tuesday at a little-known Democratic group called Progress Kentucky. “Last month, they were attacking my wife’s ethnicity,” he told reporters. “And unbeknownst to me, they were also bugging my headquarters in Nixonian fashion.” This too seemed like a red herring. Any group can be painted as a bogeyman, but Progress Kentucky is particularly small-fry: last year the so-called super PAC raised all of $1,005, and spent just $18. They garnered a lot of attention with one ugly (and since-deleted) tweet.
But the charge may not have been farfetched. On Thursday a Democratic official in Kentucky told Louisville’s NPR affiliate that members of Progress Kentucky boasted about recording the meeting. Jacob Conway, a member of the executive committee of the Jefferson County, Ky., Democratic Party, tells the network:
“They were in the hallway after the, I guess after the celebration and hoopla ended, apparently these people broke for lunch and had a strategy meeting, which is, in every campaign I’ve been affiliated with, makes perfect sense…One of them held the elevator, the other one did the recording and they left. That was what they told to me from them directly…
Apparently the gentlemen overheard the conversation and decided to record it with a phone or recording device they had in their pocket. Could’ve been an iPhone, could’ve been a Flip camera or something like that.”
Conway told NBC News that he came forward now to dissociate the group from the Democratic Party. But the upshot of the episode is that instead of a news cycle or two of pundits chewing over whether it’s fair game for the most powerful Republican in the U.S. to attack a would-be opponent for suffering from depression, the story becomes a scandal about a surreptitious bugging operation. This is the second time in two months that Progress Kentucky, a group whose entire existence seems geared toward taking down McConnell, has instead propped him up. With enemies like these, who needs friends?