FBI agents searched the legislative offices or homes of four Republican lawmakers, including former House Speaker Glen Casada, as well as three aides Friday morning.
Officials will not say what prompted the search, but the House’s current speaker, Cameron Sexton, says the aides have been placed on paid administrative leave.
The search shook the Capitol, just days before the General Assembly was set to begin its two-year session. Visibly shaken, Sexton said that these are friends and colleagues and that Friday’s events do not necessarily mean they are guilty. He said he has spoken to the governor, the lieutenant governor and the leaders of both parties about the situation.
“I will remain transparent and communicate as more becomes known throughout this process,” Sexton said. “I will also continue to work with the federal authorities, and I will encourage my colleagues to cooperate with them as well if they are asked to.”
Sexton would not specify when agents first informed him of the investigation but said he had been apprised in his role as speaker.
The FBI searched the offices of state Reps. Robin Smith, R-Hixson; Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston; and Casada, as well as the homes of Smith, Casada and incoming legislator Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill. Smith was elected to the state legislature in 2018 and served as chair of the Tennessee Republican Party in the late 2000s. Calfee has been a member of the Tennessee House since 2012. Warner was elected in November.
Sexton told reporters he doesn’t believe Calfee is part of the investigation.
Connie Ridley, the General Assembly’s director of legislative administration, told WPLN News that three employees of the Tennessee House were placed on administrative leave: Holt Whitt, Sexton’s interim chief of staff and a former aide to Casada, and legislative assistants Nadine Korby and Carol Simpson. Simpson is Casada’s assistant, while Korby is the assistant to Calfee.
Casada served as leader of the Tennessee House for seven months in 2019, resigning from that leadership position after the release of racist and sexist text threads that included him and a top aide. Last year, Casada paid a $10,500 fine for failing to account for campaign donations and expenditures.
His tenure as speaker also had earlier controversy. During the floor of the school voucher bill debate, Casada held the board open while he tried to convince lawmakers to vote in favor of it. One lawmaker said Casada offered him a promotion in the Tennessee National Guard if he flipped his vote to a yes. The lawmaker did not.
Casada has not responded to WPLN’s request for comment. But an attorney for Whitt said he is “a well-respected legislative aide with an impeccable reputation.”
“He has not been charged with any wrongdoing,” Ty E. Howard wrote in an email. “He is cooperating fully with the investigation.”
WPLN’s Chas Sisk contributed to this report.