WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- The FBI said Tuesday it is investigating whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Louisville campaign office was bugged after aides were caught on tape discussing possible political attacks on Ashley Judd.
The tape was posted by Mother Jones, a liberal magazine that created a stir last year when it published a secretly taped video of Mitt Romney.
"We can confirm that Sen. McConnell's office reported this matter to us and we are looking into it," said Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman. "We are reviewing the tape to determine if any federal laws were violated."
On the recording, McConnell's aides discuss Judd and her struggles with depression and views on several topics, including religion. The actress-activist, who flirted with a Senate bid in Kentucky, said in late March that she would not run for the Democratic nomination in 2014 to take on McConnell.
McConnell, the top Senate Republican, alleged to reporters on Capitol Hill that liberals were behind the recording. "Last month, they were attacking my wife's ethnicity. And unbeknownst to me, they were bugging my headquarters in Nixonian fashion," he said. "That what the political left does these days."
Earlier in the day, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said in a statement: "We've always said the left would stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters are above and beyond."
Benton said that "obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Sen. McConnell's office without consent. By whom and how that was accomplished presumably will be the subject of a criminal investigation." Benton said the McConnell campaign also contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office in Louisville at the FBI's request.
Mother Jones said it obtained the recording of a Feb. 2 meeting last week from a source who requested anonymity. David Corn, the story's author, said in a statement that the magazine was "not involved in the making of the tape" and rejected the characterization of "Watergate-style" tactics.
A McConnell aide is heard on the tape saying about Judd that "she's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced. 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 heard on the tape at the beginning of the meeting, in which a wide variety of opposition research on Judd is discussed. USA TODAY has not independently verified the tape.
Among other things, McConnell's aides are heard talking about Judd's support for President Obama, her opposition to coal mining, support for an energy policy known as "cap and trade," and her views on abortion and religion. One McConnell aide says Judd is critical of "traditional Christianity," according to the tape and transcript posted by the magazine.
"This is yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington, D.C.," Judd's spokeswoman, Cara Tripicchio, said in a statement.
"We expected nothing less from Mitch McConnell and his camp than to take a personal struggle such as depression, which many Americans cope with on a daily basis, and turn it into a laughing matter," the Judd statement continued. "Every day it becomes clearer how much we need change in Washington from this kind of rhetoric and actions."
Corn said he and the magazine are still waiting for McConnell to comment on the "substance of the story." He said he contacted McConnell's Senate and campaign offices and, specifically, Benton and received no response.
"As the story makes clear, we were recently provided the tape by a source who wished to remain anonymous," Corn said. "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. We cannot comment beyond that."
Some of the research on Judd came from her 2011 memoir, All That is Bitter and Sweet, in which she wrote about her struggle with depression and how she had contemplated suicide in sixth grade. In 2006, she entered a 42-day treatment program at a rehab facility in Texas.
"I would have died without it," Judd told People magazine in 2011.
The McConnell's team sought to capitalize on the leaked tape and turned its existence into a fundraising pitch by early Tuesday afternoon. They posted a message on their website that read in part: "Breaking: Liberals wiretap McConnell office."
Mother Jones created a splash in the 2012 presidential campaign when it obtained a secretly taped video of Romney, in which the GOP nominee tells donors that 47% of Americans are dependent on the federal government for assistance and would not vote for him in any case. Romney, who apologized repeatedly for what he called an "unfortunate" statement, has said the tape "hurt and did real damage" to his campaign.
Democrats have yet to find a top-tier candidate to run against McConnell in 2014. Judd has vowed she would help the party's eventual nominee in the campaign to defeat the GOP leader, who is seeking a sixth term.
Contributing: Gregory Korte