Federal agents descended on multiple Tennessee Republican House members’ homes and state offices on Friday, collecting evidence while executing search warrants.
At least 10 agents from the FBI entered the Cordell Hull legislative office building just before 8 a.m., fanning out to multiple offices carrying empty boxes with them.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee confirmed the FBI visited the homes of former House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin; Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson; Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill; and former Casada aide Cade Cothren.
According to multiple people with knowledge of the investigation, agents searched their homes.
The FBI also searched the office of Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, though House Speaker Cameron Sexton said he understood that Calfee “is not part of the investigation.” Calfee’s legislative assistant, however, has been placed on administrative leave in connection with the inquiry.
Warner was just elected to the legislature this past fall, beating former Rep. Rick Tillis, in an August Republican primary.
“This has been a trying week for our country, and this will be a difficult time for our state as well as we go down this road,” Sexton said during a late-morning news conference about the raids.
“Personally, these are our friends and colleagues of ours that we’ve worked with for many years. It’s important to remember that this is just the start of the investigation and the process and not the end. Today does not necessarily imply guilt.”
Sexton, R-Crossville, said he placed three staff members on paid administrative leave in connection with the case. According to legislative administrative director Connie Ridley, Sexton’s chief of staff Holt Whitt was among those placed on leave.
Agents visited Whitt’s home Friday morning, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Whitt was a carryover from Casada’s office as speaker.
Nadine Korby, the legislative assistant for Calfee, and Carol Simpson, Casada’s longtime assistant, were also placed on paid leave.
Sexton said he believed it was the best decision for the employees to remain on paid leave for an indefinite amount of time “since they’re part of an active investigation.”
Sexton said he was contacted by the FBI about the investigation “since becoming speaker” in August 2019, though he declined to say when he first learned about it.
Gov. Bill Lee acknowledged agents’ activity during a Friday morning briefing.
“I’ve spoken with Speaker Sexton this morning and I’m aware of the FBI raids,” Lee said. “It’s certainly very concerning. I know very little about that. There’s been no FBI outreach to us but I am confident that Speaker Sexton is on top of this situation as it unfolds.”
An agent in the Cordell Hull building on Friday could be heard telling a facilities manager that the FBI was executing search warrants.
An agent stood guard outside the office of Casada, who resigned from his position as speaker in 2019 following a vote of no-confidence from the House Republican Caucus.
Agents were also posted outside of the offices of Smith and Calfee, leaving with cardboard boxes full of various items.
Facility staff was seen using a drill to help agents unlock a desk in Calfee’s office.
A spokesperson for the FBI referred comments to the office of Don Cochran, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.
David Boling, spokesman for Cochran, said he only acknowledge agents’ presence at the building and at the various homes searched.
Neither Casada nor Smith immediately returned requests for comment.
Calfee said he wasn’t aware that agents were in his office.
“I didn’t have a clue,” Calfee said Friday morning. “I hadn’t heard.”