Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate whether McConnell illegally used congressional staff time or resources for his reelection campaign.
"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,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.
McConnell and his campaign aides are heard on the tape discussing potential lines of attack against two prospective Democratic challengers, actress Ashley Judd and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
The initial report from Mother Jones transcribes the aide leading the meeting as saying the details uncovered "reflects the work of a lot of folks: Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, a lot of [legislative assistants], thank them three times, so this is a compilation of work, all the way through."
Maxson is a legislative assistant. Josh may refer to Josh Holmes, McConnell's chief of staff, and Jesse may be Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager
More from The Hill
• Obama, GOP senators agree to exchange paper in debt talks
• House lawmaker questions IRS over email search policy
• Paul RyanPaul RyanRangel: Trump puts Ryan in tough spot Dems find voice with disruption Democrats plan 'day of action' to keep spotlight on guns MORE: Republicans must stay strong on abortion to win elections
But McConnell's spokesman, Robert Steurer, said the quote was inaccurate, and that rather than saying "thank them three times," the aide said they engaged in the research "in their free time."
“The transcript of the recording currently being examined by the FBI – pursuant to a criminal investigation of illegal wiretapping – contains an inaccuracy that partisans have used in an attempt to smear the staff of Senator McConnell. The audio of the presenter refers to members of Senator McConnell’s staff who volunteered 'in their free time.' The transcript that was used reads instead, 'thank them three times.' Although this error may not have been intentional, it is really sad that there are partisan operatives willing to ignore the potential of a crime and focus their attacks on the common practice of young people volunteering for a cause they believe in," he said.
But Sloan, CREW's executive director, indicated they were aware of the suggested discrepancy and had filed their complaint anyway.
“Luckily enough, the FBI has the technology to parse the tape and discern what was really said. Given the questions raised, Sen. McConnell should welcome both an FBI and ethics committee investigation into his conduct," she said.
Congressional rules bar lawmakers from using congressional staff or resources, which are paid for with taxpayer funds, for campaign purposes. Staffers are permitted to work on campaigns during their own time, however.
McConnell's campaign has asked the FBI to investigate the recording of the strategy session, and the senator has accused liberal group Progress Kentucky of taping the conversation.
On Thursday, a local Democrat came out and substantiated McConnell's accusations, placing responsibility for the recordings with the two leaders of Progress Kentucky, Shawn Reilly and Colin Morrison.
Updated at 7:14 p.m.