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Mississippi’s GOP Senate Soap Opera Just Keeps Getting Stranger

Thad Cochran Chris McDaniel

The race for the Republican nomination for Senate in Mississippi has been over for some six weeks now, but that doesn’t mean that the utter strangeness that has surrounded the story ever since we learned in May that a blogger who supported Chris McDaniel, along with three Tea Party supporters, had been arrested for sneaking into the nursing home where Thad Cochran’s wife is being treated and taking pictures of her. It was just Monday, for example, that McDaniel filed his incredibly weak challenge to the results of the June 24th runoff election and then, late yesterday, the whole story took another bizarre turn when a man who had previously stated that the Cochran campaign had used him to give money to African-American voters said that he had been paid to lie about this by the McDaniel campaign:

The endlessly complicated aftermath of Mississippi’s Republican Senate primary added a new layer of complexity late Tuesday, with reports that the man who had accused the campaign of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) of buying votes is now accusing a spokesman for Chris McDaniel, Cochran’s opponent, of paying him to lie about the whole thing.

Last month, Stevie Fielder told conservative blogger Charles Johnson in a recorded interview — for which he was paid — that he had been given cash to buy votes for Cochran in the runoff election. In short order, Fielder recanted that claim, which was frankly not really plausible based on the evidence at hand.

The attorney general for the state of Mississippi, Jim Hood (D), confirmed to the Jackson Clarion Ledger last week that he was investigating the source of the money that Fielder received for his interview. (Both Johnson and Fielder have admitted the payment.) “[Fielder] admitted he got paid $2,000 to lie,” Hood told the paper. “We hadn’t seen the source of the funds yet. I don’t know if that blogger had it.”

It now appears that Fielder has implicated Noel Fritsch, McDaniel’s campaign spokesman. Hood aide Jan Schaefer confirmed to the paper that Fielder told investigators that Fritsch was the source of the money. Fritsch released a statement in response to the report, stating that “Charles Johnson paid for the texts & emails Cochran/Wicker staffer Saleem Baird sent that prove Cochran bought Democrat votes.” Responding to a question from the Post, Fritsch indicated that he had not been contacted by the attorney general’s office, and added that he “wonder(s) whether Attorney General Hood will subpoena the email record and text messages the Cochran campaign’s Saleem Baird sent to Rev. Fielder about buying votes.”

Fielder, of course, has already changed his story on his involvement in the affair at least once. It seems clear that he knew who Fritsch was, though. In the original interview with Johnson, audio of which is available at YouTube, it appears that Fritsch is mentioned in passing (though his name is mispronounced) at about the 16:15 mark. Fielder and Johnson are discussing Baird, the Cochran staffer that Fielder accused of paying him money; the interviewer is likely a past collaborator of Johnson’s named Joel Gilbert, according to the Clarion-Ledger.

The McDaniel campaign is denying Fielder’s allegations and Johnson is saying that he was the one who paid Fielder for a story that has been widely discredited. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Fielder himself may not be the most reliable source of information on the planet. According to previous reports, he has previously been involved in cases involving fraud against homeowners in his construction business. Nonetheless, it does appear that he was aware of who Fritsch was at the time he initially talked to Johnson. Whether that means that the McDaniel campaign was involved in all of this or not is an entirely different story, but given the way this story has unfolded it is most assuredly something that will come out at some point.

In other news, one of the three Tea Party supporters who was arrested in connection with the Cochran nursing home story has plead guilty and will be cooperating with prosecutors against the remaining defendants:

John Mary of Hattiesburg on Wednesday pleaded guilty to conspiracy to photograph U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s bedridden wife in a nursing home, and is cooperating with authorities.

Mary faced five years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. But District Attorney Michael Guest agreed to a plea deal of five years probation, non-adjudicated, which means the charge would be wiped from Mary’s record provided he meets the terms of his probation.

Guest said Mary has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution of the other defendants in the case, and “We believe his cooperation will be crucial to the prosecution and will strengthen our case.”

Mary’s attorney, Doug Lee, said his client pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. The conspiracy was “to post a message online to harm someone.”

Mary was accused of conspiring with aspiring political blogger Clayton Kelly of Pearl, Laurel P.E. teacher and soccer coach Richard Sager and attorney and state tea party leader Mark Mayfield. Kelly allegedly went into Rose Cochran’s nursing home room in Madison on Easter Sunday and photographed her, using the image for a political hit-piece video on Thad Cochran.

The case made national news amid the bitter Republican primary battle between Cochran and tea party challenger Chris McDaniel. McDaniel denied any involvement of his campaign in the photographing or video.

The four were arrested in May. Mayfield, a McDaniel supporter and campaign volunteer whose late mother had been in the same Alzheimer’s unit with Rose Cochran, committed suicide at his Ridgeland home on June 27.

Mayfield’s family has said his “life crashed” after being accused and they are considering a lawsuit against the city of Madison, its police department or “anyone responsible.”

Lee said Mary admits to having conversations with Mayfield, Sager and Kelly relating to taking a photo of Rose Cochran and how to do it.

“He cooperated with police from the very moment they contacted him, and he will continue to cooperate with them until the end of this entire matter,” Lee said. “He was adamant that he wanted to take responsibility for his part in all of this, and he very thoroughly regrets any pain he has caused the Cochran family.”

(…)

Attorneys for the defendants have said that while taking the photographs was ill-advised and distasteful, it doesn’t violate any felony laws on the books. They claim the charges are politically motivated and overkill for what should have been at most a misdemeanor case. Authorities disagree. Guest has said he plans to present the case to a grand jury.

Kelly’s attorney Kevin Camp on Wednesday questioned why he was not notified about Mary’s plea. He also said Wednesday was the first he had heard about Mary’s “new charge” of conspiring to the crime of “posting of messages through electronic media for purpose of causing injury to any person.”

Kelly was initially charged with felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult, a charge usually reserved for those who steal from, sexually abuse or neglect an elderly person. Later, the defendants were charged with conspiracy under the state’s video voyeurism law.

The one unanswered question about the nursing home break-in case has been what role, if any, the McDaniel campaign or anyone affiliated with it may have played in the matter, and what they knew about the events prior to the time that they had been made public. The initial comments from the campaign in the wake of Clayton Kelly’s arrest were, to say the very least, confusing and seemed to leave open the possibility that the campaign was at the very least aware of who was behind the video of Mrs. Cochran and how it was obtained long before the police had made an arrest or announced publicly that Kelly was connected to the break-in and the video. Given his relationship with McDaniel, Mary’s cooperation could provide an answer to that question.

In any case, though, it’s fairly apparent that this story is far from over, even if the results of the runoff itself are exceedingly clear to everyone except Chris McDaniel and his supporters.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mu says:

    He hit ground bottom and immediately started digging. Short of McDaniels announcing hormonal treatment in preparation for gender reassignment surgery, is there anything left that can surprise us?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. CSK says:

    @Mu:

    Yeah, he concedes.

    Seriously, I don’t know whether this is comic, tragic, or just pathetic. The sidesplitting irony, of course, is that McDaniel’s been holding himself up as a pillar of virtue fighting that devil of corruption incarnate, Thad Cochran.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. beth says:

    This is gonna make a great movie someday.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Question is whether when the state Republican outfit slaps McDaniel on the nose he’s going to retire to the talk-show universe in a snit, or try to go medieval on everyone’s ass and sue everyone in sight.

    What would be even better if due to McDaniels’ shenanigans his law firm decided to kick him out as a partner. I can’t see how pissing off most of the court secretaries in the state could POSSIBLY make any of their clients nervous, oh no….

    But then–this is Mississippi. Maybe they’re used to it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. superdestroyer says:

    This makes eight major posts in a row about the Republicans. That the Republicans have zero influence on policy or governance does not seem to matter relative to the attention that irrelevant Republicans receive. That the Democrats have an insurmountable advantage when it comes to the presidential elections does not seem to matter. That every demographic trend is against Republicans but that does not seem to matter. That the Republicans have not produce a single politicians who has the skill set to revive a conservative party does not matter. That even people who say they are Republicans demand an ever growing list of government entitlements and special benefits does not seem to matter. The only thing that seems to matter is making fun.

    When anyone says that the Republican Party will come back because people crave power and some of them will see the Republican Party as a path power just needs to ask: Why would anyone put up with the redicule and attacks that will be required of any Republican candidate in the future. Anyone craving power and capable of getting it will easily see that being a conventional, establishment Democrat is the easiest path to massive amounts of political power.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 25

  6. anjin-san says:

    This is not a soap opera, it is mainstream Republican politics in the year 2014. Pretty much the entire party is a freak show, and it’s time for it’s enablers to come to terms with this reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  7. wr says:

    @superdestroyer: Why would anyone keep posting the same message time after time when no one takes him seriously? Aside from annoying people, what’s the point? Why not go play outside?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  8. M. Bouffant says:

    @superdestroyer:

    The only thing that seems to matter is making fun.

    If you think a straight-forward summary w/ quotes from & links to reputable sources is “making fun,” may I (at the admitted risk of making your head explode) refer you to some actual (& left-ish) snark sites?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “It’s only a flesh wound.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. gVOR08 says:

    McDaniel has made himself the laughingstock of Mississippi. Think about that concept. The laughingstock of MISSISSIPPI.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. CSK says:

    The Mississippi Republican Party is refusing to hear his plaint. They told him to take it to court.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. Ken says:

    @superdestroyer: “One party state! One party State! One party State!”

    Very interadesting. Do you have a newsletter?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: Along the lines of “no, we’re not touching THIS tar baby with a 10-foot pole….” Notice how quickly they bounced it?

    Their main argument seems to be “we’re not going to have time to judge this properly, so why don’t you take this to the courts….”

    Given the “I has a SAD” response from the McDaniel zoo to the Republican Party bounce, is it possible that McDaniel really thought he might stampede them into willy-nilly appointing him the winner? Or was he just looking forwards to the possibility of grandstanding in front of a captive audience?

    Now, of course, the question is whether he tries to keep the DERPtrain going and try to bring this to court….

    As a J.D., I’m watching all of this with morbid curiosity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    My bet’s on grandstanding. Even he must know he has no case, particularly given Steven Fielder’s recent admission that someone from the McDaniel campaign paid him to say that the Cochran campaign was buying black votes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: Ah, so it’s grifting, all the way.

    Maybe McDaniel and Sarah Palin can get together and run for POTUS and VP this next time around? The only problem I can see is that both of them has such big egos neither of them would want to be in the VP position.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I don’t think either one is interested in doing anything that entails actual work and responsibility. Maybe McDaniel can go the reality show route, a la Palin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0