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Candidate's Attorney-Client Claims Questioned

Phil Williams confronts Justin Wilson Phil Williams confronts Justin Wilson
Former Gov. Don Sundquist, with friend/felon John Stamps Former Gov. Don Sundquist, with friend/felon John Stamps
Jason Mumpower, House Republican leader Jason Mumpower, House Republican leader

There are new questions about answers given by the Republican nominee for one of the state's constitutional officer jobs.

Tax attorney Justin Wilson wants to be comptroller -- that's the state's budget cop.

So why won't he talk about a contract scandal involving your money?

Even a leading conservative tells our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams that Wilson's excuse for not talking doesn't fly.

Wilson tried to duck our questions outside the comptroller's office, but had nowhere to go.

"Yes?" he asked Williams as he left the office.

"Can you tell me why taxpayers should not hear from you exactly what you knew about contracts being rigged during the Sundquist administration?" Williams asked.

"What contract are you talking about?" Wilson wanted to know.

In one case, a Sundquist administration appointee was convicted for helping to rig a $2 million contract for a close friend of the governor.

That friend later pleaded guilty to fraud charges, but refused to talk about what the governor knew -- all of that while Wilson was deputy governor.

Wilson: "I had no participation in it, whatsoever, Mr. Williams."
Williams: "That wasn't my question."
Wilson: "None whatsoever."
Williams: "Do taxpayers have a right to know what you were told afterwards?"
Wilson: "Anything that might involve any sort of confidential information that may have come to me from anyone -- and I don't mean Gov. Sundquist -- if I'm obligated as a lawyer, I'm obligated under my legal obligations. I don't even want to imply that Gov. Sundquist ever told me that he even knew anything about it."
Williams: "But you're not saying whether he did or did not?"
Wilson: "I can't, as a lawyer, say anything period."

Conservative talk radio host Steve Gill, himself a lawyer, calls that a bogus claim.

"He was working for the state of Tennessee," Gill said. "He wasn't Don Sunquist's lawyer. He was an employee of the state of Tennessee, and the attorney-client privilege does not apply under those circumstances."
Still, Republican leaders say they don't need to ask what Wilson knows about contract fraud under the Republican administration.

"I again have the utmost confidence confidence in him, knowing him personally, having worked with him in state government," House Republican leader Jason Mumpower said.

"Which doesn't answer the question: why not ask him about what he knows?" Williams asked.

"There are any number of questions that anyone may or may not have been able to ask. I asked him the questions that I felt were pertinent to the process."

Then, there are questions about Wilson's lobbying efforts in 2003 to push a plan from rejected treasurer candidate Ira Brody's company.

It was a $7 billion investment scheme in which the state would have purchased life insurance on some retirees. Then, when they died, the state would have cashed in.

Wilson: "I was given a proposal by a client to present and I did present it. It was rejected."
Williams: "Was it in the best interest of taxpayers?"
Wilson: "This was six or seven years ago, I don't remember exactly."

Wilson also worked hard to enact a state income tax when he was deputy governor. But he's essentially using the lawyer argument there too, saying he was advocating Sundquist's position -- not his own.

Gill says if he truly opposed the tax, he should have resigned instead of pushing something that was bad for taxpayers.

NewsChannel 5's investigation also revealed that Wilson's resume lists a master's degree from what's been called a bogus diploma-mill. The Vanderbilt law grad says he didn't know the school wasn't real.

Privately, some Republicans say they have reservations about electing Wilson.

But they say they're being told if they vote their conscience -- they'll be kicked out of the Republican Party.

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