Anti-Cochran Blogger Arrested After Taking Pictures Of Thad Cochran’s Wife In Nursing Home
A Mississippi political blogger who has been critical of Senator Thad Cochran and supportive of his Republican primary opponent Chris McDaniel has been arrested after breaking into a nursing home and taking pictures of Cochran’s wife in her room:
A Pearl man who runs a political blog is accused of sneaking into a nursing home where U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife is bedridden and photographing her, then posting the image in a video political “hit piece” on the internet.
Madison Police arrested Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28, of Pearl on Friday night on a charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult. He’s being held on a $100,000 bond.
Kelly is accused of sneaking into St. Catherine’s Village in Madison, where Rose Cochran has resided since 2000, suffering from progressive dementia and now bedridden.
Cochran on Saturday issued a statement: “I have been fortunate to have a wonderful family, and like so many families, we are deeply affected by my wife’s serious, long-term illness, that we consider to be a very private family matter. We will continue doing everything we can to protect my wife’s safety and security.”
Donald Clark, attorney for Sen. and Rose Cochran, said the Cochrans’ “privacy and dignity have been violated.”
“We became aware of an unauthorized picture, posted on the internet, of Mrs. Cochran, taken literally in her room by her bedside at St. Catherine’s,” Clark said. “Sen. Cochran retained my law firm on this matter, and we looked at various legal options. We notified the proper authorities, which in this case is the city of Madison Police Department.”
Campaign sources say Kelly on Saturday, April 26th, posted an anti-Cochran, pro-Chris McDaniel “hit piece” video that included the image of Rose Cochran. The video and references to it were removed from the internet within a couple of hours.
Kelly operates a “Constitutional Clayton” blog, a Youtube channel and other social media. He has posted numerous pieces in support of McDaniel and opposition to Cochran, and appears to have interviewed McDaniel on video at least once.
A campaign spokesman for state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s campaign said the campaign was not involved in the video Kelly did, and Kelly doesn’t work for the campaign.
“Absolutely — I’ve never even heard his name,” said Noel Fritsch, communications director for McDaniel.
McDaniel, in a written statement on Saturday, said: “I have reached out to Sen. Cochran directly to express my abhorrence for the reprehensible actions of this individual. This criminal act is deeply offensive and my team and I categorically reject any such appalling behavior. My thoughts and prayers are with Sen. Cochran and his family. Politics is about the exchange of ideas and this type of action has no place in politics whatsoever and will not be tolerated.”
In the often combative history of American politics, I’ve got to say I don’t recall seeing anything quite like this. And while it was obviously not officially tied to the McDaniel campaign, it certainly seems to be a measure of the extent to which political debate in this country has descended into the gutter. NBC’s Chuck Todd summed it up well on Twitter this morning:
Politics should never become so rabid that crazy supporters do what happened to Sen. Cochran’s wife.
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) May 17, 2014
As for the race itself, there’s been a dearth of polling in Mississippi so far but the most recent poll from Harper, a Republican polling firm, had Cochran up by 17 points while the Huffington Post/Pollster average has him up by 17 points as well. The primary is set for June 3rd, with a runoff set for June 21st if neither candidate gets above 50% of the vote. I would imagine that his incident will garner at least some sympathy for Cochran,who has a long political history in the state.
Update: There may be more to this story. The Clarion-Ledger, which broke the original story, is raising questions about just when McDaniel’s campaign knew about the break-in:
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s campaign is questioning how Chris McDaniel’s campaign manager, state Sen. Melanie Sojourner, apparently knew about Clayton Kelly’s arrest before news of him allegedly sneaking into Rose Cochran’s nursing home room and taking photos broke.
Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell said Sojourner left a voice mail message for Cochran campaign manager Kirk Sims at about 7:45 a.m. on Saturday, offering condolences over Kelly’s alleged actions and assurance McDaniel’s campaign doesn’t condone it. Russell said Sojourner indicated she had been concerned over the incident since Friday night.
Kelly was arrested Friday night. Police issued a press release about Kelly’s arrest late Friday night, but it and early news reports did not mention Rose Cochran, only a brief statement about his charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
A Clarion-Ledger article posted online at 9:24 a.m. broke the news about a connection between the arrest and the Cochrans.
McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch, contacted at 9:47 a.m., said he knew nothing about the arrest or news. Sen. McDaniel, interviewed for an article by the Capitol Hill publication The Hill less than an hour after the Clarion-Ledger story broke, said he knew nothing about it and “I don’t guess I’ve been up long enough to see what’s happened.”
Russell said “this appears to be an inconsistent story,” from McDaniel and his campaign.
“I think it would be interesting to know how she would hear about it before 7:45 a.m.,” Russell said.
To go any further at this point would be pure speculation, of course. As they say, however, stay tuned.