Inside Story: Group Hits 'Miss Anna Belle' with Rejected Claims - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Inside Story: Group Hits 'Miss Anna Belle' with Rejected Claims

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Retired Sen. Anna Belle Clement O'Brien, right, at humanitarian award dinner with Gov. Phil Bredesen Retired Sen. Anna Belle Clement O'Brien, right, at humanitarian award dinner with Gov. Phil Bredesen
Drew Johnson with the Tennessee Center for Policy Research Drew Johnson with the Tennessee Center for Policy Research
From Phil Williams:

Tennessee sure has seen its share of scandals up on Capitol Hill.

Recently, a watchdog group leveled new allegations of corruption against a retired state senator.

It sounded pretty serious.

But I did what the group didn't do: I checked the facts.

The accusations came from an activist who has, to his credit, taken aim at some questionable behavior on Capitol Hill.

But, in this case, an 85-year-old woman may have been an innocent victim.

Drew Johnson heads the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. That's a group that seems to get its funding from mostly conservative sources.

Anna Belle Clement O'Brien is a retired Democratic state senator, who was just honored by Republicans and Democrats alike as a humanitarian who's made life better for a lot of Tennesseans.

But just as "Miss Anna Belle" -- as she's called -- was about to be honored, Johnson released a 23-year-old FBI memo in which a government informant made allegations that the then-senator had been involved in a bribery scheme.

Johnson's news release cited "possible corruption" and questioned whether she should be honored.

Instead of being hailed as a humanitarian, Johnson wrote, "O'Brien potentially deserves another title: corrupt."

Those are harsh words for an elderly woman who hasn't been in the legislature in almost two decades.

And the fact is: the document isn't new -- I personally saw it more than a decade ago.

Even worse, there's no evidence that what the informant claimed was true.

The lead agent on that investigation, Richard Knudsen, tells me: "It's not fair to her or to anybody else. These are allegations that somebody made, but we could not verify it."

[UPDATE: In a follow-up email, Knudsen reiterated the FBI's findings.  As to claims by lobbyist Peabody Ledford to be a "bagman" who handled bribes to O'Brien, "our conclusion was that it was more likely Peabody was overselling his contacts and was hustling for money."]

So when Johnson claims there is a "possible bribery scheme looming," it's just not true.

Ironically, the FBI memo also names a former Republican lawmaker who's about to be honored with a GOP Lifetime Achievement Award.

But Johnson hasn't asked his conservative friends to boycott that dinner.

He says he didn't know that the Republican lawmaker was being honored.

(The memo came an FBI investigation, called "Operation Rocky Top." Phil was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage related to that investigation.)

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