The man who oversees the Tennessee General Assembly’s Local Information Server disputed some of what News Channel 5’s Phil Williams reported about Cade Cothren and Justin Jones and said so to him in an email Thursday.
Cothren is chief of staff for Tennessee Speaker of the House Glen Casada.
Jones is a left-wing activist and Vanderbilt Divinity School student awaiting a court date for allegedly throwing a cup of coffee at Casada as he stood in an elevator.
As Williams reported this week, Cothren might have doctored the time stamp on an email to frame Jones and put him in jail. Jones emailed Casada’s office on Feb. 25, a few days before Jones allegedly assaulted Casada on Feb. 28 and also before court officials told him to have no further contact with Casada’s office. Cothren said he received Jones’ email on March 1 and immediately contacted the office of Nashville District Attorney Glen Funk.
Cothren said the email server took a few days to deliver Jones’ email to his inbox. Cothren said, however, he didn’t realize this until later. The email Cothren said he received had a March 1 time stamp.
On his Twitter page Friday, Williams suggested he didn’t accept that version of events.
Just a quick lesson on truth-telling for @GlenCasada and his chief of staff Cade Cothren. Who ever heard of a date changing when an email is forwarded? That’s what Cothren claimed pic.twitter.com/8rn1QTGjtn
— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) May 3, 2019
“Just a quick lesson on truth-telling for @GlenCasada and his chief of staff Cade Cothren. Who ever heard of a date changing when an email is forwarded? That’s what Cothren claimed,” Williams wrote.
But, according to emails The Tennessee Star obtained, a state employee with technical expertise contacted Williams and News Channel 5 News Director Sandy Boonstra the day prior to explain what happened.
In the email, Tennessee General Assembly Director of LIS Vinay Dattu also explained why members of Casada’s office never responded to Williams’ emails as he pursued this story.
According to Dattu, four of Williams’ emails to Casada’s office had racial slurs and were deleted because of security reasons.
But as for what happened between Cothren and Jones, Dattu wrote:
LIS received an inquiry from Cade Cothren (Chief of Staff for House) on February 23rd, 2019 regarding e-mails not delivered to his inbox. Upon investigation, we concluded the e-mails sent from Justin Jones (e-mail: [email protected]) along with thousands of other e-mails were marked as spam and deleted automatically by the E-mail spam filtering security system.
About your claim that Cade Cothren received an e-mail from Justin Jones (e-mail: [email protected]) on February 25th, 2019 is not accurate because we manually released the e-mail from Justin Jones (e-mail: [email protected]) along with other e-mails intended for delivery to Tennessee General Assembly inboxes on March 1st, 2019. In summary, Cade Cothren did not receive the e-mail from Justin Jones dated February 25th, 2019 @9:09 AM with the Subject: RE: Justin Jones until we (LIS) released the e-mail on March 1st 2019.
Furthermore, our e-mail systems quarantined four separate e-mails from you ([email protected]) on April 29th, 2019 and April 30th, 2019 because our systems detected the content of the e-mail as inappropriate for the workplace and flagged for violating the content filtration rules. The system automatically deleted the e-mails from the quarantine folder. Finally, our security systems are quasi-intelligent and work most of the time, but some times it will flag legitimate e-mails as false positives. We continue to work with our vendors to make our e-mail systems more reliable, secure and efficient in the future. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have, and I will be glad to assist you.”
Dattu then provided Williams with the following timeline of events:
• 2-21-2019– “A message from a legislative staffer received concerning TNHoller.com blocked by internal security systems. Adjustments were made to allow access to the site. Blocking was due to new site registration of 1/25/2019.”
• 2-23-2019– “We received a request to review if emails from [email protected] were delivered to the recipients. Analysis indicated that some emails were delivered; however, two e-mails were deleted by the email security system. The two emails deleted had anomalous originating IP addresses which boosted the aggerate scoring above the threshold for delivery.”
• 2-25-2019– “Based on analysis security systems were adjusted to hold all messages identified as spam in quarantine for manual analysis.”
• 3-1-2019– “During the manual analysis, we released e-mails to members and staff which included an email message from [email protected] were released from quarantine. The e-mail was received on 2-25-2019 and delivered on 3-1-2019. A ticket was opened with security vendor at 5:44 PM to determine if false positives were in line with industry standards.”
• 3-2-2019 – “We made adjustments to allow messages from Gmail to bypass a portion of the analysis flow without filtering.”
• 4-29-2019 and 4-30-2019 – “Four messages from [email protected] were deleted by security solution because they contained racial epitaph’s.”
Dattu went on to say nearly 500,000 emails are received per month. Nearly 300,000 of those are assessed as clean. And 184,000 of those messages are what he called “threat messages.”
As The Star reported Thursday, Casada said Williams’ report claiming someone in his office forged the time stamp on Jones’ email is untrue.
“On March 1 the email from Jones dated February 25 was received by my office and it was immediately forwarded, along with a photo of the email that showed the March 1 date that it was received, to the Nashville District Attorney because it appeared that Mr. Jones had violated the terms of the Court’s Order to refrain from contacting me. After it was realized that the date the email was received was a few days after it had been sent, my office notified the District Attorney about the apparent disparity in date,” Casada said.
“The email was not altered or manipulated to falsely accuse Jones of violating the Court’s order.”
According to published reports in both The Tennessean and The Tennessee Tribune, Nick Leonardo, a Democrat who once served on the Metro Council and as a General Sessions Court judge, represents Jones.
Leonardo is also a legal analyst for News Channel 5, suggesting he was the person who tipped Williams off to the story.
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Did House Speaker’s office attempt to frame activist? DA asks for special prosecutor to investigate” by New Channel 5 Nashville.