Tennessee House Democrats demand federal investigation into claims that Casada eavesdropped on private meetings

House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, talks with a colleague Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The GOP-supermajority House and Senate passed a negotiated version of the bill that would increase the amount of public dollars that can pay for private tuition and other expenses. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee House Democrats are calling on the U.S. Attorney's office to investigate whether Republican House Speaker Glen Casada and his former chief of staff used the legislative audio-visual system used to livestream public committee hearings to eavesdrop on private meetings in the rooms.

Citing an "alarming" news report, Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville said it "astonishingly revealed that a surveillance was set up to allow Speaker Casada's office to surveil meetings, private meetings, going on in committee rooms at a time when the official cameras were not on."

Stewart said lawmakers have been told the committee rooms "are not filmed and not recorded except during official, public committee hearings. Many, many meetings occur in these rooms that are private."

He said not only Democratic Caucus members but Republican Caucus members and the general public "have a right to an expectation of privacy when they're meeting in these rooms paid for by the Tennessee citizens -- except during times when according to official policy there are publicized hearings occurring."

An attorney, Stewart charged that "when you have secret recording where there is no consent, that is a felony under our law."

Calling it a "grave and serious" situation, Stewart said the U.S. Attorney should investigate "to see what crime, if any, occured."

The Tennessean reported that Casada's former chief of staff Cade Cothren said earlier this year that the legislative system allowed him not only view the rooms at all times but listen to any conversations in the rooms.

Cothren, who resigned this week amid a series of sexual and sometimes racist texts with Casada became public, later denied to the Tennessean that he had said the audio-video system gave him such capabilities.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.