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Achy breaky vendor? Informants say Smith called purported operative ‘Matthew Cyrus’

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

Three confidential informants within the Cordell Hull Building assisted federal investigators in a probe into the activities of former House Speaker Glen Casada, then-Rep. Robin Smith, and ex-legislative staffer Cade Cothren, according to court documents obtained The Tennessean’s Adam Friedman, Melissa Brown, and Mariah Timms.

An affidavit filed in support of the search of the FBI’s search of Smith’s home and electronic devices in January 2021 was apparently inadvertently left open for public perusal in East Tennessee federal court. The document has since been sealed, but not before the Tennessean reporters got their hands on it.

The affidavit recounts how the confidential informants began relaying details to investigators in May 2020, specifically about how Smith promoted a vendor called Phoenix Solutions to colleagues. According to Smith’s guilty plea earlier this year and last week’s indictments of Casada and Cothren, the outfit was run by Cothren and the two lawmakers allegedly received kickbacks for directing business to it.

The informants told the FBI there had been several gaps in the efforts by Smith and Casada to hid Cothren’s participation. They included his endorsement of checks meant for Phoenix Solutions and having money direct deposited into a Davidson County bank even though the company was ostensibly based in New Mexico.

Smith told caucus members Phoenix Solutions was run by a man named Matthew Phoenix who had previously worked for Jamestown Associates, a real political consulting company based in Washington. But investigators established nobody by that name had worked for Jamestown. After the meeting, Smith appeared to slip up while speaking to a confidential informant, calling the operative “Matthew Cyrus.” She later tried to correct herself by saying Cyrus was Phoenix’s middle name, the warrant said.

A third informant recorded a call in which Smith said she sometimes got confused because the consultant went by both Matthew Phoenix and Matthew Cyrus.

Meanwhile, Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports Smith has asked for her sentencing to be delayed from its original date of Oct. 17 to at least the end of January 2023.

“The plea agreement . . .  contemplates the defendant will cooperate with the government in this and related cases,” the motion said. “It is anticipated the defendant will testify in United States v. Casada.”

The judge in the Casada and Cothren case has scheduled the trial to begin Oct. 25, though it’s likely proceedings will be delayed if the defendants waive their right to a speedy trial.

UPDATE: Smith’s sentencing has been rescheduled for Jan. 30.

What’s on tap for latest special session?

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Lawmakers are back for yet another special session later this week, the third one this year. This time, Republicans are hoping to demonstrate to constituents they are doing something — anything — against what they see as federal overreach on COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates.

Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Press has taken a deep dive into the legislative proposals that could be taken up. They include:

— Banning private companies from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated.

— Ending the right of minors to decide whether to get vaccinated without the parents’ consent.

— Curbing the authority of the state’s six independent county health boards.

— Making workers who suffer side effects from required vaccinations eligible to sue their employers or file for workers’ compensation benefits.

— Writing into law Gov. Bill Lee’s executive orders allowing parent to opt their children out of school mask mandates.

— Converting school board elections into partisan contests.

“The call is broad enough where we can discuss what all the states have done and figure out if there’s a direction we want to go,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) told reporters last week. “We’ll see what direction that we want to come out on to protect individuals from who want to have their personal decision in what’s happening to them.

The petition to return into special session also includes an item that appears to have little to do with the pandemic. It would allow lawmakers to “address a district attorney general peremptorily refusing to prosecute all instances of a criminal offense without regard to facts or circumstances.”

The language appears to be in response to Nashville prosecutor Glenn Funk’s announcements that he won’t pursue criminal charges for the possession of small amounts of marijuana or those who violate a new state law requiring businesses to post warnings about policies allowing transgender people to use bathrooms of their own choosing.