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FBI executes search warrants on former TN House Speaker Casada, other Republicans

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Posted at 9:11 AM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 19:35:21-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — FBI agents raided the homes of former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and other Republican allies early Friday morning, as well as their legislative offices, as part of an unspecified probe into possible public corruption.

NewsChannel 5 spotted agents working the halls of the Cordell Hull Building in downtown Nashville where legislative offices are located. An FBI agent stood guard outside the Franklin Republican's legislative office, while other agents were seen leaving offices of Reps. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, and Kent Calfee, R-Kingston.

The simultaneous raids, executing search warrants issued by a federal judge, began at 7 a.m. Friday morning.

NewsChannel 5 spotted two FBI agents entering Casada's condo in Franklin at 7 a.m.

Casada, who resigned as House speaker in August 2019 following a NewsChannel 5 investigation and was re-elected to the state House in November 2020, greeted agents in his bathrobe.

A search team entered the residences with boxes and photographic equipment around 8 a.m. and emerged two hours later carrying a couple of boxes of potential evidence.

Sources tell NewsChannel 5 Investigates that searches were also executed at the homes of Robin Smith and newly elected Rep. Todd Warner, R-Lewisburg.

NewsChannel 5 spotted FBI agents outside the homes of former Casada aides Cade Cothren and Holt Whitt. Agents were seen carrying evidence out of Cothren's downtown Nashville apartment.

At Whitt's East Nashville residence, FBI agents drove him down the street to talk to him in the back of an unmarked car. Returning home, he could be seen handing over his smartphone.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed the FBI's presence and involvement in on-going searches, but would not elaborate on the focus of the investigation.

The FBI has long had an interest in questionable activity exposed by NewsChannel 5 Investigates involving Casada, including an alleged bribe offer to secure a lawmaker's vote on school voucher legislation.

But sources tell NewsChannel 5 that the current inquiry focuses more on allegations of an illicit effort to launder campaign money during last year's legislative elections.

As NewsChannel 5 first revealed, a fictitious group was created to launch attack ads against Lewisburg Republican Rep. Rick Tillis. One mailer used a postal permit number that was identical to the mailings from Todd Warner's campaign.

Related: Anonymous campaign attack targets Republican lawmaker

Warner, Robin Smith and Kent Calfee all used the same shadowy mailing company for their campaigns.

Current House Speaker Cameron Sexton released a statement Friday morning, saying staff members have been placed on administrative leave in connection with the probe.

“Since becoming Speaker, I have been contacted by federal authorities regarding an ongoing investigation related to the former speaker’s office.

I have been, and I will continue to be in full cooperation with the authorities as their investigation continues.

On the advice of both Ethics and Legal Counsel, I am placing everyone that was subject to the execution of today’s search warrants on administrative leave until further notice.”

The following employees were placed on leave:

  • Holt Whitt, Sexton's interim chief-of-staff and Casada's director of legislation
  • Nadine Korby, Kent Calfee's legislative assistant
  • Carol Simpson, Casada's legislative assistant

During a news conference Friday, Sexton said federal authorities contacted him after he became House speaker. He said he's been in full cooperation with the investigation, which is related to the former speaker's office.

Sexton added that he's aware of the investigations into Reps. Robin Smith, Kent Calfee and Glen Casada and said they’re working with investigators. He encouraged all members to do so.

"This has been a trying week for our country, and this will be a difficult time for our state, as well, as we go down this road. Personally, these are our friends and colleagues of ours that we worked with for many years. It's important to remember that this is just the start of the investigation and the process and not the end. Today does not necessarily imply guilt. I have spoken to the governor, the lieutenant governor, leadership and both parties about this morning's events. I will remain transparent and communicate as more becomes known throughout this process. I will also continue to work with the federal authorities, and I will encourage my colleagues to cooperate with them, as well, if they are asked to," Sexton said.

Gov. Bill Lee was asked about the matter during his scheduled media availability this morning and said he was "aware" of the situation.

“I’ve spoken with Speaker Sexton this morning and I’m aware of the FBI raids. It’s certainly very concerning. I know very little about that. There’s been no FBI outreach to us, but I have confidence that Speaker Sexton is on top of the situation and we’ll learn more as this unfolds," said Lee.