This article is from Tennessee/Lookout.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton said Monday he gave “factual information” to a grand jury investigating political corruption and confirmed he is not a “target” in the federal probe.
Sexton was among at least five lawmakers subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, including Republican Reps. Jason Zachary of Knoxville, Bud Hulsey of Kingsport, Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain and Esther Helton of East Ridge. Legislative Administration Executive Director Connie Ridley also went before the grand jury Monday.
Zachary previously declined to confirm he was subpoenaed, saying only, “I know what you know.” He showed up, though, at the federal courthouse to provide testimony, according to reports.
Hazlewood also said last Thursday she had not been subpoenaed but later confirmed she received a subpoena by email she did not see until after speaking to reporters.
Sexton, a Crossville Republican in his third year as House Speaker, declined to give reporters details about his testimony but reiterated that he was called to give “factual information,” according to news reports.
“I think it’s important to remember I think grand juries, state and federal, are unique and different, and the federal process requires an individual to be subpoenaed to either (be) one of three people. One’s a target. I’m not a target, never received a target letter. Another one is a suspect, which I am not. And then third is a witness that provides factual information, a factual witness per se. Today, my role is to provide information and be a factual witness, which I happily did and answered all the questions under oath,” Sexton told news reporters outside the building in downtown Nashville.
Federal agents are putting together a case involving the creation of a political vendor that gave kickbacks to lawmakers and possibly political bribery surrounding the 2019 education savings account vote.
Sexton has said he has been cooperating with federal agents since he won election to the Speaker’s post in the fall of 2019 following the resignation of Rep. Glen Casada amid a sexist and racist texting scandal and complaints about his management style.
Sexton’s testimony comes on the heels of the resignation of Rep. Robin Smith when she pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge three weeks ago.
Smith and Casada, who was identified in federal documents as a former House Speaker from January 2019 to August 2019, used their positions in the Legislature to persuade House Republicans to do business with a new campaign vendor called Phoenix Solutions, according to federal documents. As part of her guilty plea, Smith is cooperating with federal agents.
Smith, Casada and first-term Republican Rep. Todd Warner were targets in a January 2021 raid by FBI agents.
Smith’s guilty plea identifies the operator of the business as the former House Speaker’s ex-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, who resigned amid scandal. Cothren gave Smith and Casada kickbacks for more than $200,000 worth of business steered to him, according to the federal documents.
The House Republican Caucus spent tens of thousands of dollars with a man named Matthew Phoenix, believed to be Cothren, yet nobody within the caucus had a face-to-face meeting with the owner of Phoenix Solutions.
Hulsey said previously he believed he was subpoenaed because he did business with Casada’s consulting firm, Right Way Strategies. Helton said she believed she was called to testify because she used Phoenix Solutions, and Hazlewood used the vendor too, but then said later she would not have used it if she’d known who was involved.
_ Sam Stockard