Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) legal team apparently held onto information concerning a man’s taping of the senator’s bedridden wife for as many as two weeks before turning it over to the police.
Kelly, an apparent supporter of Cochran's GOP primary challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel, was arrested Friday over the alleged taping, and the incident has roiled the bitter race two weeks from the election, as a new survey from a group backing McDaniel shows the race to be within the margin of error.
“We were made aware of [the video] that morning because people were emailing us saying, ‘Did you see this?’ ” Russell told The Hill. “We conducted our own review for a few days and then went to Sen. Cochran about it, and that was when the decision was made to turn it over to the attorneys.”
Russell said he wasn’t sure how long the campaign conducted its investigation, but the inquiry lasted anywhere from three days to a week before the campaign consulted Cochran’s attorney.
Conservative news site Breitbart.com reported Monday that Cochran’s lawyer brought the information to the Madison, Miss., Police Department on Thursday of last week. Kelly was arrested Friday, and local newspaper The Clarion-Ledger broke the news of the case’s connection to Rose Cochran on Saturday. A local political blog posted a press release detailing the arrest but not the Cochran connection on its website Friday night.
Don Clark, Cochran's lawyer, said that his firm, Butler Snow, for which Cochran supporter and former Gov. Haley Barbour also works, investigated the situation and assessed their options before turning the details over to the police.
"As we would in any similar situation, we gathered appropriate background information on his behalf and looked at his options for both civil and criminal remedies. That resulted ultimately in our contacting the appropriate law enforcement authorities on his behalf and turning this matter over to them. They have conducted their own investigation and have taken whatever actions they deemed appropriate," he said in a statement.
According to The Associated Press, police are now investigating whether others were involved in the taping. Madison Assistant Police Chief Robert Sanders told the AP that such a possibility is "certainly one of the focal points of the investigation," and The Clarion-Ledger is reporting that a police department representative said there are others they'd like to talk to "who might have been part of a conspiracy."
The issue of who knew what when has become a central focus of the story, after it was revealed that Melanie Sojourner, McDaniel's campaign manager, left a voicemail for Cochran’s campaign manager expressing hers and McDaniel’s condolences hours prior to The Clarion-Ledger reporting the Cochran connection.
Cochran’s campaign has raised questions about when and how the McDaniel campaign knew about the video. The timeline of events was muddied Saturday morning, when The Hill confronted McDaniel with the story, shortly after it broke, and he indicated he hadn’t heard anything about it.
Sojourner, however, expressed in her voicemail that McDaniel was disgusted by it and wanted to speak with Cochran. McDaniel's spokesman later clarified that the candidate was alerted to the issue before Sojourner made her call to Cochran's campaign, around 7 a.m., but wasn't fully briefed until about 10:30, after his interview with The Hill.
Breitbart is also reporting that Sojourner knew about the video when it was first posted in April and sent out an email calling for it to be taken down. Russell said that news raises fresh questions about what the campaign knew.
"If they knew about it three weeks ago, why didn't they go to the police? Why didn’t they say anything to us about it? When was Sen. McDaniel aware of it? Why did he act surprised on the square in Hernando when he was notified about it?" he asked.
Cochran and McDaniel are locked in a tight battle for the nomination, and a new survey, conducted by The Polling Company for Citizens United Political Victory Fund — which has endorsed McDaniel — gives McDaniel 43 percent support to Cochran's 39 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, within the poll's 4.4 percent margin of error. A third candidate, Tom Carey, took 3 percent support, and 12 percent are undecided.
That means the race could be heading to a runoff if no candidate gets a majority of the votes.
Conservatives who oppose the longtime senator have high hopes for their chances in the June 3 primary, due to Cochran's tenure and his history of crossing the aisle on tough votes.
He has, however, rallied the Mississippi political establishment, with a super-PAC connected to former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) launching numerous attack ads and mailers against McDaniel.
— This piece was updated at 4:30 p.m.