“Holding my nose”: That’s how Mitch McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton described running the Senate minority leader’s re-election campaign in a phone recording obtained by both the Economic Policy Journal and The Iowa Republican websites.
In the recording made by conservative activist Dennis Fusaro in January 2013, and released Thursday, Benton tells Fusaro, “Between you and me, I’m sort of holding my nose for two years, ’cause what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16 so. That’s my long vision,” Benton says, referring to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and his possible presidential aspirations in 2016.
Fusaro, vice president for development at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington D.C., confirmed to ABC News that he did record the conversation without Benton’s knowledge, but said it is legal because both he and Benton were in “one-party consent” states where only one person on the phone must consent to a phone conversation being recorded.
Benton served as Ron Paul’s spokesman during both his 2008 and his 2012 presidential campaigns.
The McConnell campaign’s press secretary, Allison Moore, sent a statement from Benton that said, “It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me. I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014.”
Fusaro said he released the tape because he “wanted to see if Jesse was going to clean up his campaign.”
In the recording, Fusaro also asks Benton about allegations that he was aware of an alleged bribe or pay-off given to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson by Ron Paul’s deputy national campaign manager Demitri Kesari.
The bribe was allegedly given to Sorenson just days after he switched his support from Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign and went to Ron Paul’s, a surprising move in the world of Iowa political endorsements.
Earlier this week The Iowa Republican obtained another call from Fusaro, in which he and Sorenson discuss the check.
Sorenson says to Fusaro in that recording, “I know Jesse knows” about the check.
Benton, however, denies any knowledge of the check in the recording between himself and Fusaro, adding, “If you’ve got proof of that, I’d like to take action.”
Oddly enough, this is not the first time a member of the McConnell campaign has been recorded without their knowledge.
In April, a February campaign strategy session between McConnell and his aides, including Benton, was allegedly recorded by two Democratic activists and released to Mother Jones magazine.
In it McConnell and staffers are devising tactics for discrediting actress Ashley Judd who at the time was widely expected to enter the U.S. Senate race to take on McConnell. She decided in March not to run.
But while Judd was mulling the race, McConnell’s staff was strategizing that the best way to hurt her candidacy would be to highlight her past struggles with depression and her religious views, according to the tapes.
In the meeting, according to the tape, McConnell is heard saying, “I assume most of you have played the game Whac-A-Mole? This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign … when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.”
They then delved into Judd’s mental health, which she has spoken about openly for years, including in her 2011 autobiography.
“She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced,” the aide says. “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.”
McConnell is facing a primary challenge from tea party candidate and businessman Matt Bevin; his Democratic challenger is Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.