Photo: House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, stands at the microphone during a House session in Nashville, Tennessee
Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey / AP
Published: January 11, 2021
Friday morning, the FBI descended upon the homes and offices of several of our state’s legislative staff throughout Nashville and across Middle Tennessee.
Photos have since been released showing plainclothes detectives storming state legislative buildings, guarding the doors and then exiting with a variety of boxes, presumably filled with evidence for an investigation.
At the time these raids occurred in the Cordell Hull offices and elsewhere, little information was initially available. Through the following few days, some of the nature of the investigation has come to light.
In a statement released to media from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, they confirmed the list of individuals that were targeted in the search. This included FBI visiting the homes of former House Speaker Glen Casada(Franklin), Rep. Robin Smith(Hixson), Rep. Todd Warner, (Chapel Hill), and former Casada aide Cade Cothren. A business associated with Rep. Warner was also included in the search.
The office of Rep. Kent Calfee (Kingston), was searched as well but House Speaker Cameron Sexton reported that Calfee “is not part of the investigation.” Despite this, Calfee’s legislative assistant has been placed on administrative leave due to connection with the open investigation.
Sexton stated further in a press release that he had been contacted by the FBI and aware of about the ongoing inquiry into the offices “since becoming speaker” in August 2019 but neglected to explain why he remained silent on the issue prior to the raids. He summed up his stance on the issue as follows:
“Personally, these are our friends and colleagues of ours that we’ve worked with for many years,” he said. “It’s important to remember that this is just the start of the investigation and the process, and not the end. Today does not necessarily imply guilt.”
However, despite statements of good faith from House Speaker Sexton, the legislative offices have been involved in ongoing scandals including Casada’s removal from office in a vote of no-confidence after hidden agendas, white noise machines to cover meeting audio, and liscientuous text messages were discovered.
Many of the staff involved have been placed on paid administrative leave at this time. Though the choice has been questioned and criticized after the revelation that Sexton didn’t act on his knowledge until the investigation was made public.
Sexton’s interim chief of staff, Holt Whitt, also was placed on administrative leave. Whitt previously served under Casada, as director of legislation. Boling declined to confirm whether the FBI visited Whitt’s home.
Whitt’s attorney, Ty Howard, released a statement on his behalf Friday afternoon, confirming Whitt was contacted by FBI agents regarding the investigation.
“Mr. Whitt is a well-respected legislative aide with an impeccable reputation, and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He is cooperating fully with the investigation,” Howard said.
Casada’s legislative assistant, Carol Simpson, also is on leave.
Attorney Ben Rose spoke for our local Hixson/Hamilton County Representative Robin Smith issuing this statement on Friday:
“Earlier today a search warrant was served on Robin Smith related to an ongoing investigation.
She intends to cooperate fully with the investigation in all respects. While she would have preferred to do so voluntarily, Robin understands this may not have been possible. Robin is not the target of the investigation, and she has not done anything wrong. Please understand that due to the ongoing investigation, Robin will not be providing any further comment.”
While the investigation in presently ongoing and a great deal of speculation can be made into the reasoning behind it, federal law enforcement sources have confirmed for various media outlets that the investigation is following what appears to be the laundering of campaign finance money through a shadow company that ran ads against Todd Warner’s opponent Rick Tillis.
Warner went on to beat Tillis in the Aug. 2020 election for Tennessee’s new District 92 House Representative.
At this time, no further insight is available. We can expect to see more details come to light as the investigation unfolds further in the public eye. Stay tuned for updates.