There’s “no proof that this theory is true but no proof that it is not true” either.
After months of a bizarre racially charged campaign featuring a nursing home break-in, an anarchic conference call, Tea Partiers locked in a county courthouse on Election Night, and accusations of senility, the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Mississippi between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel is now supposed to turn on circumstantial evidence of Federal Election Commission violations.
In a press conference held at an Alexandria, Virginia, office building by the controversial independent journalist Charles C. Johnson and New Jersey-based political consultant Rick Shaftan, the conservative supporters of McDaniel made one last attempt to try to overturn the results of the June 24 runoff primary before a half-dozen onlookers.
Johnson, best known for authoring discredited stories for The Daily Caller, and Shaftan, notorious for being fired from the Senate campaign of Tea Partier Steve Lonegan after making homophobic remarks about Cory Booker, made an odd couple standing in front of the generic red brick building, which housed a media buying firm called National Media and a man waving a Gadsden flag. Johnson, wearing a black suit without a tie and brown suede shoes, read a statement in monotone off his phone while Shaftan, in jeans, a button-down shirt, and skinny red tie, spoke far more passionately yet without a script.
Johnson recently gained attention after publishing an interview with a Mississippian who claimed that he had bought hundreds of votes for Cochran’s campaign prior to the runoff at $15 a head. That man, Stevie Fielder, has since recanted. Instead, this press conference was focused on alleged FEC violations committed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to funnel money to pro-Cochran PACs through National Media. They claimed the funds were used for radio ads that encouraged black voters to vote against McDaniel. Johnson denounced these ads as “race-baiting.”
Shaftan echoed Johnson’s characterization of the ads and went on to accuse the NRSC of engaging in wire fraud and money laundering in order to put the ads on Mississippi radio stations under the label of a group called All Citizens for Mississippi. As a result, Shaftan demanded a new Senate primary election because of these “serious criminal violations of federal campaign law.” Johnson, who cited Gawker and TMZ as models and noted he had paid Fielder for text messages, made clear that there was “no proof that this theory is true but no proof that it is not true” either.
Even if the theory is true, Joe Sandler, a prominent Democratic election lawyer, told The Daily Beast that criminal charges, let alone a new election, would be unlikely in this situation. While he found the allegations to be “interesting” and “potentially criminal,” he thought “you’d have to have a lot more to go on” to prosecute.
Later in the press conference, Shaftan said those behind the ads were as deserving to be sent to prison as disgraced conservative intellectual Dinesh D’Souza, while Johnson compared Sen. Cochran to a character from Lord of the Rings, and suggested that the Mississippi senator both “suffered from dementia” and kept a mistress.
Shaftan and Johnson, who worked together on the Lonegan campaign, called on the GOP and Republican candidates to boycott National Media and assailed former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour while praising Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Johnson assailed Cochran for his role as the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations leading the “gravy train” to benefit Barbour and other lobbyists. This was the rear guard of an army that lost a battle, firing one last volley before retreating.
The sole bystander, Elizabeth Bassett, was the former head of the Alexandria Young Republicans and had now become a dues-paying member of the Libertarian Party. She said she had heard about the event via a Tea Party email list and came out, pushing a baby carriage, to show her support for the fight against “the machine” that was running the Republican Party.
In the meantime, with an election challenge under Mississippi law looking almost impossible for the McDaniel campaign, this represents one last desperate effort. After all, while Johnson still insisted that the voter “fraud was apparent” in the Magnolia State, the purpose of the press conference was to accuse the NRSC, a third party, of FEC violations. If proven, violations of campaign-finance laws are a big deal. But, in this case, they’re not worth overturning an election—nor can they draw out more than 10 people on a Friday morning