Tennessee House Speaker Engulfed in Scandal Over Fake Email, Cocaine, Racism, Sexts
A botched attempt to jail a student protester has brought down the chief of staff to one of the state’s most powerful politicians. He could lose his own job next.
It started with allegations that a Tennessee politician’s office tried framing a student with doctored emails. Now the office is embroiled in cocaine-snorting, intern-sexting, slur-spouting scandal.
Cade Cothren, chief of staff to Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, resigned Monday under an avalanche of allegations. Last week, Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 produced emails suggesting Cothren and others in Casada’s office had attempted to jail a student activist with false emails. In the ensuing days, Cothren admitted to using cocaine in the statehouse, and was accused of exchanging racist and misogynist texts with others in the office, including Casada.
Casada, a high-ranking Republican in the state, previously declined to fire Cothren over the revelations. But now Cothren is out, and Casada is facing calls for his own resignation.
Casada and Cothren have only occupied the House Speaker office for a few months, most of which has been marked by scandal. Previously the House majority leader, Casada became speaker in January. Almost immediately, he ordered pay raises for staff and Cothren’s salary jumped from $68,400 to $199,800 a year, sparking some local backlash.
Cothren was also accused of offering an unspecified incentive if a fellow Republican would flip his vote on a controversial bill. Women who were allegedly sexually assaulted by a Tennessee politician as teenagers also accused Cothren and Casada of making misleading statements about meeting with them.
But the duo’s current woes began with a student activist, Justin Jones, a divinity student at Vanderbilt University.
In February, Jones requested a meeting with Casada about the removal of a Confederate statue from the state Capitol. Casada’s office did not agree to a meeting. When Jones confronted Cothren on video about the lack of communication, Cothren falsely claimed he did not receive the email because Jones spelled “capitol” wrong in the address bar. (Jones spelled the word correctly.)
When Jones and others protested the statue on February 28, he was accused of throwing a cup of coffee into an elevator with Casada and charged with assault. He was released on bond and ordered to have no contact with Casada.
Then in early March, a judge accused Jones of emailing Cothren, in violation of the order, and filed to revoke Jones’ bond. But Jones said he didn’t break the no-contact order: he sent the email on February 25, part of the email chain Cothren claimed not to have received. Cothren then forwarded the email to the judge, with a timestamp that made the email appear as though it was sent after Jones received a no-contact order.
Casada’s office denied that they doctored the email to frame Jones. In emails provided to NewsChannel 5, Cothren blamed a glitch for changing the email date.
But alleged forgery was just one of the office’s worries. NewsChannel 5’s investigation into Jones’ case revealed that Cothren made multiple racist remarks in text messages. In one text, he called an African-American football player a “thug n---er.” in Another, he declared that “black people are idiots.” In a third exchange, this one with Casada, Cothren posts a meme about “black people,” apparently in reference to a Tennessee legislative district.
Casada’s office initially implied the messages were fake. “I’ve known Cade Cothren for nearly a decade, and I’ve never known him to act in a manner in which these emails and texts falsely portray him,” Casada said in a statement Thursday.
But new texts soon emerged. On Monday, the Tennessean reported that Cothren made inappropriate advances or comments toward women, sometimes in conversation with Casada.
In messages from February 2014, Cothren texted someone about a female intern in the capitol. “I’m gonna keep hitting on her just to see what happens,” he wrote. He reportedly noted that the intern was in a relationship, but “before long, I’ll be THAT guy.”
In April 2015, Cothren repeatedly solicited a different intern, including asking her for oral sex and nude pictures on different occasions. Text from 2016 reportedly show him soliciting a female lobbyist and making lewd comments about her husband.
In a statement to the Tennessean on Monday, Casada claimed ignorance of Cothren’s comments: “He would have been let go. If I had known that he was interacting with interns in that manner, I probably would have sent him to rehabilitation.”
But Casada and Cothren also discussed women in explicit terms, according to texts reviewed by the Tennessean. In a June 2016 conversation, Cothren reportedly shared a picture of a woman standing next to a pole.
“What about some pole dancing!!!” Casada wrote, adding “Can I just touch????”Later that summer, Cothren texted Casada that “Just so y’all know, I did fuck [a woman] in the bathroom” of a local restaurant. “Will send pictures later.”
“Only gone for 60 seconds,” Casada replied, “R u a minute man???;)”
“Yes, I take after you,” Cothren wrote. “Like father like son.”
“Lololol!” Casada said. “If I’m happy, then all is good!!!!”
In a separate conversation, Casada reportedly told another person that, with Cothren around, “those girls aren’t safe!!! Shepard? He’s the wolf!!!”
NewsChannel 5 also reported that Cothren had done cocaine in legislative offices in years past. On Monday night, Cothren admitted to the cocaine use and the text messages, blaming “unrelenting stress, peer pressure and unrealistic expectations” in his job.
Until Monday, Casada stood by Cothren, declining to fire him over the snowballing allegations. But Cothren resigned Monday evening, calling his scandals a “distraction” for Republicans.
Now Casada is facing similar calls to resign, at least from his role as speaker. In a Tuesday interview, he borrowed an excuse from President Trump, calling his sexual conversations with Cothren “locker room talk.”
He claimed not to have used the language in recent years.
“I got caught up in the moment,” Casada said.
On Tuesday, he named GOP state Rep. Scott Gilmer as Cothren’s replacement. Gilmer has previously pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor offense after he made fake websites in the name of a Tennessee Democrat.