A newspaper claims that House Speaker Glen Casada’s former chief of staff once bragged to a reporter that he had bugged legislative committee meeting rooms and now a Democratic leader is calling for an investigation.
Joel Ebert of The Tennessean reported last week that the ex-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, told a reporter earlier this year that he could view and listen to people in the rooms whenever he wanted. The story is available here. Last week, Cothren denied the comments as well as his ability to eavesdrop.
Also, The Tennessean said that white noise machines, which hamper the ability to eavesdrop, were located in the ceilings of the hallways inside and outside of Casada’s office. The newspaper says several lawmakers had expressed concern someone might be recording their conversations in private meetings, but the publication did not name names other than Casada.
Ebert, the statehouse reporter for The Tennessean, now says State Rep. Mike Stewart (D-TN-52), chairman of the Democratic House Caucus, has called for a federal investigation.
(He then provided the link to his story and a copy of the letter.)
Here is a copy of the letter that @RepMikeStewart sent to the US Attorney's office today, asking for a probe into the information I wrote about in this story https://t.co/EpBi6oqMKV pic.twitter.com/6wbFLMctXg
— Joel Ebert (@joelebert29) May 8, 2019
The letter that Ebert tweeted shows a request by Stewart to Donald Q. Cochran, U.S. District Attorney General for the Middle District of Tennessee. Stewart wrote that the story alleged the presence of a recording system in the Cordell Hull Building that targeted members of the State House of Representatives. Stewart wrote that he believes that such a system is illegal and asked for an investigation.
The rooms in question are also used for such purposes as caucus meetings and discussions by lawmakers and citizens, The Nashville Scene said. That publication reported on a press conference held by Stewart and State Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-TN-50) in which the called for the investigation by Cochran as well as the Department of Justice’s Public Corruption Unit.
“We have as a caucus been told the committee rooms are not filmed except during official meetings,” Stewart said. “Democrats, Republicans and private citizens have an expectation of privacy in these rooms.”
“Evidence can be destroyed,” Mitchell said. “We’re calling on the U.S. Attorney to come in immediately. There’s no time to waste. It never surprises me what the Republican leadership of the Tennessee House will stoop to.”
Casada on Friday took steps to contain the fallout over the Cothren situation, which includes allegedly inappropriate text messages, as The Tennessee Star reported.
Casada said in a statement that he directed the Speaker’s office to cooperate with a District Attorney General’s Conference investigation of an email from activist Justin Jones. The activist claims the email’s send date was altered in order to make him appear guilty of violating a court’s no-contact order.
Casada also sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Ethics Committee asking that they issue an advisory opinion concerning his actions over the resignation of Cothren, The Star said.
Casada’s actions may be too little, too late.
The Star has reported on other Republicans who have weighed in on Casada’s ability to continue leading the House.
Republican legislators who have expressed the opinion that Casada should resign include Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), Rep. David Hawk (R-Greenville) (who ran against Casada for Speaker last year), and Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg).
Meanwhile, at least three other legislators expressed their support for Casada, including Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland), Rep. Susan Lynn (R- Mt. Juliet), Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) and Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), each of whom serve in leadership positions appointed by Casada.
Gov. Bill Lee said that if Casada served in his administration or worked for his company, he would have asked him to resign, The Star reported. The governor later said that decision should be up to the House.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally also has been one of the legislators calling for Casada’s resignation.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.
Photo “Mike Stewart” by TN Democratic House Caucus. Background Photo “Tennessee House of Representatives” by Ichabod. CC BY-SA 3.0.