NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A secret recording reveals that House Speaker Glen Casada knew that damning text messages obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates were authentic - even as he went on the attack, accusing the station of fabricating the story.
In a phone call the night before NewsChannel 5's story was posted online, Casada accused a former associate of being the source of racist text messages sent by his chief of staff, Cade Cothren. Other texts also showed Cothren boasting about his use of illegal drugs and engaging in vulgar exchanges about women, including with Casada himself.
That phone call was recorded, and the audio was provided to NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"What's happened is there's accusations that Cade has sent some inflammatory text messages," Casada told the former associate during the phone call Wednesday night.
"You haven't released any personal text messages Cade would have sent you, have you?"
Dissatisfied with the answers he got, the House Speaker ended the call by saying, "It sounds like you might have.... I hate that you did that."
But, the next day, the Williamson County Republican told reporters that he questioned the authenticity of the text messages, going even farther on Friday in a radio interview.
"In this environment that we live in - because we as conservatives are winning the intellectual battle - I'm convinced that some liberal guy living with his mom and dad in their basement created this to frame my chief of staff," Casada told WWTN’s Phil Valentine.
After learning about the recording, Valentine told his viewers Wednesday that he was fed up with Casada.
"I don't appreciate the fact that he came on my show and lied to everybody out there," Valentine said. "I'm asking tough questions no doubt, but I am expecting honest answers."
Valentine added, "I can't believe that he hasn't resigned already. I think it's time to go, time to move on."
Casada's story finally changed this week after NewsChannel 5 Investigates informed him and Cothren on Sunday that we also had photos and videos from the chief of staff.
Included was a selfie that Cothren had taken at 2:15 a.m. during a trip to Colorado. He texted, "Tripping balls out of my mind at 2:15. Craziest experience of my entire life. Acid, cocaine, weed." After a 2015 trip to the Dominican Republic, Cothren also texted: "just did a gram of cocaine in my office."
At the time, Cothren was press secretary for the Tennessee House Republican Caucus.
"Regarding the texts in question, I readily admit that I sent some of them," Cothren said Monday morning in a joint statement with Casada.
The chief of staff claimed that he had sought counseling since then and was a changed man.
"While I'm not proud of who I was in the past, I am proud that, with God's grace and a strong support system, I've been able to achieve so much in the years since."
After NewsChannel 5 and The Tennessean published vulgar text exchanges about women, including with the Speaker himself, Cothren resigned.
Tuesday, in a radio interview with WWTN's Brian Wilson, Casada invoked a similar defense, claiming that he too had changed since the last of the 2016 texts obtained by the news media.
"In the last couple of years, I have come to realize [that] I can't do this and it is not appropriate behavior," Casada told Wilson. "So, yes, I participated in locker room talk with two adult men that was not intended to go to anyone else, and I was wrong. In the last several years, that kind of talk has not entered and left my mouth."
As for the racist text message sent to him, the House Speaker no longer claimed that the text messages were fabricated.
"If I received that, I don't remember," Casada claimed.
"If I had seen it, you would have seen another text coming from me saying 'this has to stop' because I know me. I know I would have responded that way if I had seen that text."
Top House Democrats have now called for Casada to resign.
“Citizens of the State of Tennessee deserve to have a Speaker that they can trust, whose character and moral standards are beyond reproach," said Democratic Leader Karen Camper of Memphis. "The actions of our Speaker are unbecoming and disrespectful, not only to the citizens of our state, but to the office he holds.”
Caucus Chair Mike Stewart of Nashville added: “Actions have consequences; Speaker Casada’s actions are obviously disqualifying, and he must either resign or be removed.”
Still, Casada insisted Monday in his radio interview that he still believes he enjoys "overwhelming" support from the House Republican Caucus.
"They are proud to have someone in charge that is leading in a direction of making Tennessee the most conservative state - and that's defined as keeping government out of your way and keeping more money in your back pocket," Casada said.
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