State turns to court after former House aide refuses subpoenas

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee attorney general is suing a former House speaker’s former chief of staff in court after he refused to comply with subpoenas in the investigation of a shadowy political action committee.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery asked a Nashville judge late last week to order Cade Cothren to explain why he should not be held in contempt of court for failing to obey subpoenas in the Faith Family Freedom Fund PAC survey. Cothren worked for Representative Glen Casada before the two resigned from their leadership positions in 2019 amid scandals.

Cothren’s attorney advised state campaign finance regulators that he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The attorney general’s filing indicates that Cothren’s team did not cite sufficient reasons to do so.

Ahead of the 2020 GOP primary election, the PAC attacked the then-Rep. Rick Tillis, who is the brother of US Senator from North Carolina Thom Tillis. Rick Tillis lost to Republican Representative Todd Warner, who was among those subject to FBI searches at the legislative building and other addresses in January 2021, alongside Casada, Cothren and former Republican Representative Robin Smith.

In federal court, Cothren and Casada were involved in an alleged political consulting kickback scheme involving a different political entity that prompted another former lawmaker’s guilty plea. Last month, Smith resigned and then pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with the alleged scheme.

Federal authorities say Smith, Casada and Cothren collaborated with the separate consulting firm, Phoenix Solutions, to secretly and illegally funnel money to each other through taxpayer-funded campaigns and work. So far, prosecutors have kept Casada and Cothren anonymous and haven’t charged them with anything, but they have described the two in easily identifiable terms in court documents.

Some fellow GOP House lawmakers said they felt betrayed after Smith convinced them to use the provider. Prosecutors said the three claimed the company was run by a certain “Matthew Phoenix”. In fact, it was Cothren who used an alias because they feared lawmakers and the office of his successor, President Cameron Sexton, would use the provider if Cothren’s involvement came to light, prosecutors said.

Sexton, who said he was cooperating with the investigation, was among those who testified with other lawmakers before a grand jury last month.

Casada and Cothren had been pressured to step down as president and chief of staff in 2019 following swirling scandals, including revelations that they had exchanged sexually explicit text messages about women years before.

The Tennessee Election Finance Registry, meanwhile, referred its investigations of the Faith Family Freedom Fund PAC to the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office.

The Register decided to reopen an earlier investigation into the Faith Family Freedom Fund after the PAC treasurer said in January that she was Cothren’s former girlfriend and opened the PAC at Cothren’s request. She said Cothren asked her, saying Cothren assured her she was doing nothing wrong. She said she didn’t do anything else.

Cothren told the Register in February that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and disobey subpoenas for evidence and testimony in an investigation surrounding a political action committee, saying they were “made in bad faith and constitute an abuse”. of the process.”

In its legal filing last week, the attorney general’s office wrote that Cothren had not provided information to support those claims. The state filing further argues that Cothren’s objections are not sufficient to disobey the subpoenas and that he cannot give a “blanket” assertion to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

Casada, who was also subpoenaed, told the Register that he was not involved with the Faith Family Freedom Fund.

Casada announced in November that he would not run for office this year and would instead run for Williamson County clerk.

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