Cade Cothren

Casada blasts Registry as ‘biased,’ Ogles threatens legislative action to halt subpoenas

Then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with members on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) on Friday called the members of the Registry of Election Finance “biased” for subpoenaing information from him about a political action committee allegedly created at the behest of his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren.

Speaking at a Williamson Inc. forum, Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) also blasted the move, saying the House plans to take a “deep dive” into the powers of the campaign finance board’s powers. Ogles is close friends with Cothren and was a prominent Casada loyalist before his speakership collapsed in 2019.

Casada is retiring from the House and running for Williamson County clerk this year. The Registry in 2020 hit Casada with a $10,500 civil penalty for failing to keep receipts for $99,000 worth of expenditures made by his PAC. He also had his home and office searched by FBI agents early last year.

The Registry last week voted to issue subpoenas after a former girlfriend of Cothren’s testified under oath that she had set up a political action committee called the Faith Family Freedom Fund at his urging, but then had nothing to with it as it bankrolled attacks on the re-election bid of then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg). Email correspondence between someone purporting to be herself and the Registry did not come from her, she said.

Here is a transcript of the Williamson Inc. meeting on Friday:

Dave Crouch, moderator: The elephant in the room maybe this morning is you’ve been in the paper with some questions been asked about various things here recently. Is there anything you would like to say?

Glen Casada: I feel like a kid sitting on the side of the road, and someone’s just some come and punched me in the nose for no reason. If you didn’t know, the election registry of finance has subpoenaed me to ask me questions on a PAC. And the frustrating thing is, Dave, I have no knowledge of this PAC, I have no association, and there’s no reason to think that I do. And I realize three years ago, I was quite involved politically across the state on elections and getting people elected. But I just feel like the board has a bias, you know? And so, so let me just be very clear. And I was very clear [when I ] contacted them. Guys, not only do I not know, or never heard of this PAC, or no association with it. Why would you even reach out and punch me in the nose like you did? You know, there’s no reason to do that. So, so let me just put that to bed. And thank you for this opportunity to address it.

Crouch: I’m gonna push back a little just for conversation here. Cade Cothren was your chief of staff?

Casada: Yes. Three years ago.

Crouch: When you were speaker of House?

Casada: He was.

Crouch: And apparently he’s the one that had his girlfriend set this PAC up. That’s correct?

Casada: Yes.

Crouch: And why would he have done that?

Casada: You could ask Sam [Whitson], Brandon [Ogles], or Jack [Johnson] that question. I don’t know. I mean, there’s no association. It’s been three years ago when he was employed by me. So again, it’s just a bias on that board’s opinion. And the legislature gave them certain powers to be deliberative, and to be fair, and not biased. And I feel like you’re exhibiting biases by just assuming because he once worked for me three years ago, you know, that somehow I’m involved. And that’s not the way we run public policy.

Crouch: I just, I didn’t want to totally ignore the subject. I want to just air it out some. Brandon, you’ve got a comment?

Brandon Ogles: I’d like to speak to this because there was a conversation yesterday with members of the Judiciary Committee in the House. The fact that some of the things that were said in the press, they were so sloppily said by these committee members. For them to issue a subpoena that’s not signed by a judge, there’s going to be ramifications for that when you start threatening people to subpoena them. Some of these boards that we’ve set up in the state of Tennessee, these pseudo-entities, even entities within the state of Tennessee, that threaten people. And to issue subpoenas that have no weight, or credit, or value – and are not signed by a judge – circumvents every judiciary process we have in this state, both criminally and civilly. So we’re going to deep dive into this, this threat to subpoena people. And if this continues, remember: also the House committees can subpoena as well. So this will be interesting to watch play out. I’m going to enjoy being a member of Judiciary and seeing this come to light.

Is that you, Cade? Read the email to the Registry the PAC’s treasurer says she didn’t write

The treasurer of a PAC that pilloried then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in the 2020 primary says she never did anything beyond register the Faith Family Freedom Fund. Everything else, she testified to the Registry last week, was handled by the man she once thought she was in love with: Cade Cothren.

“He told me that none of this was illegal, that he didn’t do anything illegal, and that it was no big deal to open the political action committee,” said Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student.

“And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through, which I’m sure everyone’s aware,” she said. “But yeah, he resigned from his position as chief of staff to Glen Casada. And he didn’t want his name on the political action committees.”

Friedopfer, who now lives in Utah, said she was unaware the PAC had a Gmail address and that someone had been corresponding with the Registry under her name.

That was not me,” Friedopfer said.

An email purporting to be from Friedopfer was sent from a FaithFamilyFreedomTN@gmail.com account on Nov. 2, 2020. It was dismissive of a complaint filed against the PAC for allegedly coordinating its activities with Todd Warner, the Republican challenger who would go on to win the seat.

“It is extremely difficult to follow the rabbit holes of Mr. Hazelwood in this complaint and it seems the majority of his grievances are with other people/organizations,” the email said. “To our knowledge, we have disclosed all information required of our PAC in Tennessee and will certainly continue doing so.”

After offering to answer any further questions, the author signed off: “Thank you again, Sydney.”

The Registry last week voted to subpoena Cothren and others for more information about the PAC.

Ex-girlfriend testifies Cothren had her register PAC that attacked Casada foe Tillis

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony ouside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tenenssee Journal)

In remarkable sworn testimony to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on Thursday, the treasurer of a mysterious political action committee testified she had registered the outfit at the behest of her then-boyfriend, Cade Cothren, and had nothing further to do with it thereafter.

“I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him,” said Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student who now lives in Utah. “And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through.”

The Family Faith Freedom Fund PAC was involved in attacking then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), a foe of Cothren and his former boss, House Speaker Glen Casada, in the 2020 primary won by now-Rep. Todd Warner. (Just as a reminder, Cothren, Casada, Warner, and Rep. Robin Smith had their homes and offices searched by the FBI around this time last year).

Here is a transcript of Friedopfer’s testimony to the Registry on Thursday. The other speakers are Registry chair Paige Burcham Dennis, general counsel Lauren Topping, executive director Bill Young, and members Tom Lawless, David Golden, and Hank Fincher.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Miss Sydney, are you on the phone today?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, I am.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, before we get to you. I want to remind you, we’re going to have Lauren, give us a little bit of background on the Faith Family Freedom Fund case. But I do want to remind you that you are under oath today even though you’re participating by phone.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK, yep, no problem.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. Lauren, can you give the Registry a little bit of background on what’s going on with the Faith Family Freedom Fund case?

Lauren Topping: So as you’ll recall, this case came about as a result of a complaint that was filed with the Registry. As a result of that, there was an audit that was ordered. Up until this point in time, we had been unable to reach Ms. Friedopfer. And so the audit report basically says that we were unable to obtain any information. I think that’s all in your packet. But since then, we have been able to contact her and so she is here on the line today to tell you what she knows. So that’s kind of where we are.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, so at this time, Sydney, I understand you’re in Utah. Is that correct?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, that’s correct.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. I’m Chairman Burcham Dennis, and we’re going to let you tell us what you would like to tell us concerning the case.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK. So I guess I don’t have the exact date, sometime in end of 2019, early 2020. I had a friend of mine that I met when I was back at Vanderbilt ask me to open a political action committee for him. I was advised that I should tell you the name. The name is Cade Cothren. And I trusted him.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Could you repeat that? His name was what?

Sydney Friedopfer: Cade Cothren.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK.

Sydney Friedopfer: Being a 22, 23-year-old at the time, I, unfortunately, did not have any information about politics. I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him. And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through, which I’m sure everyone’s aware. But yeah, he resigned from his position as chief of staff to Glen Casada. And he didn’t want his name on the political action committees. Like being young and dumb, honestly, regarding this, I –

Paige Burcham Dennis: So Sydney, you had an involvement, a relationship or friendship, with him. And he asked you to do this on his behalf. That’s what you’re saying?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes. I mean, yeah. At the time, I thought I loved him, I guess. But I was young and he’s 10 years older than me. And I trusted him. And so I opened the political action committee for him. And I filed the papers, signed my name, and that was the last I heard of it. I received the e-filing thing in the mail. And I just sent him a picture of that. And he took over from there. And I didn’t hear about it again until a reporter started calling me. But the first time I had anyone call me from a reputable source that I was going to talk to was when Lauren called me a few weeks ago.

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Casada PAC attacks from 2018 appear to be templates for hit pieces on Tillis

A political action committee that ran attacks last summer against former Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) used the same template as hit pieces issued by the PAC of former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) two years earlier.

The mailers attacking Tillis were run by a group called the Faith Freedom Family Fund, or FFFF. The ones targeting Jonathan Mason, a Republican candidate running for a Hamilton County House seat in 2018, were sent out by Red Ivory Strategies for Casada’s CAS-PAC. Red Ivory is owned by Michael Lotfi, whom Casada later hired for a no-show job at the General Assembly.

“Lying Rick Tillis will say & do anything to get elected … Don’t let him fool you!” reads an FFFF mailer.

“Lying Jonathan Mason will say & do anything to get elected … Don’t let him fool you!” says a CAS-PAC mailer.

Red Ivory received at least $135,000 from House Republicans in 2020, including $57,750 from the GOP caucus (which isn’t supposed to work against its own members).

The Tennessean has reported that former Casada aide Cade Cothren, who helped run CAS-PAC, also assigned work on behalf of FFFF.

Casada’s preferred candidate in the 2018 primary was Esther Helton of East Ridge, who went on to win the primary and the general election. A mailer from that race carried a Chattanooga postal permit number, 383, that has featured heavily in the Tillis primary.

Permit No. 383 was used in August by Tillis’ opponent Todd Warner, the FFFF PAC, and a campaign vendor called Phoenix Solutions, which has run mailers for a variety of GOP candidates. Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) was a major promoter of Phoenix.

Smith, Casada, and Warner had their homes and offices searched by the FBI earlier this month, which agents also went through Cothren’s apartment.

FBI raids state lawmakers’ homes, offices

Federal agents and legislative staffers confer outside the office of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) on Jan. 8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Federal agents descended on the homes and legislative offices of Republican state Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Robin Smith of Hixson, and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill on Friday. They also executed searches at the home of former Casada chief of staff Cade Cothren and three current legislative staffers.

The FBI didn’t say what it was investigating, though speculation spread around the Cordell Hull Building that agents were looking into efforts supporting Warner defeat of Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in last year’s primary and the previous year’s push to pass a controversial school voucher bill.

Is this what Casada meant by ‘nothing else?’

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Seeking to shore up support among the Republican caucus last week, House Speaker Glen Casada assured colleagues “there’s nothing else to come out” in the text message scandal that threatens to topple him from the chamber’s top leadership position.

But new revelations emerged on Monday, as WTVF’s Phil Williams reported that Casada and his now former chief of staff exchanged text messages about whether two young women were at the legal age of consent.

Cade Cothren, then the House GOP press secretary, sent a text to Casada in August 2016 featuring a vide of two women dancing in his apartment.

“R they 21?” wrote Casada, then the House Republican Caucus chairman.

“It only takes 18,” responded Cothren, who was named Casada’s chief of staff after his election as speaker in January.

Casada’s answer: “Lol!!! And true!”

Cothren resigned last week after WTVF and The Tennessean reported he had sent racist and lewd texts. Casada said he never saw racist texts and apologized for “locker room talk” regarding women.

In one exchange, Cothren described a woman pictured upside down next to a pole as “wife material,” and Casada responded: “Can I just touch?” Cothren answered: “Maybe just once.”

In another exchange, Cothren texted Casada about a supposed sexual encounter with a woman in the bathroom at the Party Fowl restaurant, adding he’d send pictures later.

Casada remarked his aide had only been “gone for 60 seconds,” adding, “R u a minute man?” Cothren answered that he takes after Casada.

“Like father, like son,” he wrote to the speaker.

Cothren in other text messages solicited oral sex and nude photos from an intern and made sexual advances toward a female lobbyist.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) became the seventh Republican to call to Casada to step aside as speaker. The Tennessee black caucus also voted to call for Casada to resign as the chamber’s leader after a marathon meeting on Monday.

Casada releases ‘action plan … to prevent future missteps’

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) speaks to Republican colleagues in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) has released a statement about his plans for responding to the text messaging scandal that has enveloped his office:

I take complete ownership over the text messages with inappropriate comments about women that I exchanged with my former Chief of Staff and another individual several years ago. It’s embarrassing and humbling to have it displayed in this manner. I apologize and hope that my friends, family, colleagues, and constituents find a way to forgive me for it because it is not the person I am and it hasn’t been the way I have conducted myself as Speaker.

I’d also like to take the time to express my sincere disappointment for the myriad of other messages between my former Chief of Staff and another individual that have surfaced which included racial slurs, drug use, and various other inappropriate comments. I condemn them in their entirety and I do not tolerate that type of behavior as an elected official or as a human being.

Moving forward, I have put together an action plan to be executed by members of my staff, members of the House Ethics Committee, and the joint legislative offices that seeks to provide clarity to what has transpired, as well as ensure that I am doing everything within my power to prevent future missteps. I look forward to executing this plan as I work towards establishing trust where it has been broken and ensuring that the House is more ready than ever to conduct the people’s business.

 

Here’s the “Action Plan”

  • Speaker Casada has written today to the TBI and to the District Attorney Generals’ Conference asking them to investigate, as expeditiously as possible, the email from Mr. Justin Jones that was forwarded by former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren to the District Attorney’s office. The TBI and the District Attorney will have the full cooperation of the Speaker’s office, the House of Representatives, and Legislative Information Services. Although we are confident that the email was not forged, an independent investigation is welcomed.
  • The House Ethics Committee has been asked by Speaker Casada to meet to review the termination of former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren. In addition, the committee with the assistance of Connie Ridley, Director of Legislative Administration, is being asked to review our personnel policies and to investigate the possibility of drug testing for new They will look at the implications of implementing this policy. In addition, the Ethics Committee will be consulting with members and staff on how we can improve our policies and training for members and staff regarding our policies.
  • The Speaker’s office along with Legislative Administration is reviewing our current operations for any existing violations of the legislature’s personnel policies. If any violations are found, they will be addressed
  • The Speaker’s office met with the Black Caucus, and Speaker Casada is in the process of scheduling a meeting with them to express his apologies for the racist texts sent by former Chief of Staff, Cade Cothren. The Black Caucus will be working with the Speaker’s office and other members and staff to create appropriate diversity training for members and

Lee and McNally weigh in on Casada text message scandal

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), center, attends an economic development announcement in Nashville. At left is Gov. Bill Lee and on the far right is House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal).

Republican Gov. Bill Lee and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) have issued statements on the text message scandal surrounding House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin).

Here’s what Lee had to say:

When we choose to enter public service, we have an obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard and cultivate an environment of professionalism and respect. We owe it to Tennesseans to ensure they know that all of us in elected office hold ourselves to that high standard. Recent revelations have shaken that faith, and we need to ensure that confidence is fully restored.

And here’s McNally:

Senate leadership and I are greatly disappointed by the inappropriate actions and attitudes revealed in recent news reports. Every person who interacts with the state legislature should be treated with the utmost respect. It is deeply troubling that some have fallen short of this standard. Tennesseans expect and deserve better from those who serve the public trust. Senate leadership is united in our commitment that members and staff continue to uphold the standard Tennesseans demand of their public officials.

Casada says support among GOP caucus remains ‘overwhelming’

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) presides over a floor session in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Glen Casada says he still has “overwhelming” support among fellow Republicans in the chamber despite the resignation of of chief of staff amid allegations of racist text, drug use in his office, and soliciting sex acts with an intern and lobbyist.

“If you look at the results of what we’ve done in the House of Representatives, I think no one can dispute things have run smoother than they have in a generation, and we have had bold conservative leadership,” Casada told told WTN-FM’s Brian Wilson.

“Based on my conversations with them, they are proud to have someone in charge that’s leading them in a direction of making Tennessee the most conservative state,” he said.

The text message exchange included Cothren boasting to Casada about having sex with a woman in a Nashville restaurant they had attended together.

“I participated in locker room talk with two adult men that was not intended to go to anyone else and I was wrong,” the Franklin Republican said “In the last several years, that kind of talk has not entered or left my mouth.”

“I got caught up in the moment at that time, and participated in that text messaging the two adult men,” he said. “And that is not me today.”

Casada said the text messages were released by a “disgruntled employee” who vowed to take down Cothren and Casada after being fired.

“Cade did an excellent job. Three years ago, he came to me and said he had a problem. He said he was struggling. And he didn’t say what it was, but I knew what it was, and that he wanted a second chance to turn his life around. I gave him that and his did turn his life around,” Casada said.

“Why he is resigning is things that he did before he turned his life around,” he said. Casada denied prior knowledge of Cothren’s drug use or soliciting sex acts from other women at the Capitol complex.

Casada’s chief of staff resigns after sexual texts with intern

House Speaker Glen Casada’s Chief of Staff Cade Cothren following a whirlwind day of revelations including that he sent text messages soliciting sex acts from an intern and used cocaine in his legislative office, The Tennessean reports.

Cothren the top strategist for Casada’s campaign to nail down his election as speaker by getting involved in contested primaries for open Republican seats last year. Cothren also played a pivotal role in ensuring the razor-thin passage of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher bill.

“It was just a distraction,” Cothren told The Tennessean. “We’ve accomplished a lot of great things this year and I don’t want to take away from those for our caucus.”