Sohn: Tennessee Capitol rooms are bugged, House Speaker Glen Casada's is bug-proofed

FILE - In this May 2 file photo, House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, left, talks with Cade Cothren, right, his former chief of staff, during a House session. Cothren resigned Tuesday amid allegations of racist and sexually explicit texts. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

It is past time for Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada to resign from the his leadership post.

His lies, misdirection, misogynistic and racist attitudes, along with an increasingly apparent overarching abuse of power, are beginning to unravel after his coddled top aide - accused of all the same things, plus drug use in the state Capitol - resigned earlier this week. What must be asked is whether the aide was merely mirroring much of the boss's behavior.

We've come to expect this kind of embarrassing, raw, narcissistic behavior in Washington, D.C. But when Tennessee politics like this make headlines in The Washington Post and on other national news sites, we know it's time to hang our heads.

"Cocaine, racy texts and a potentially fraudulent email: A week of chaos roils one statehouse," reads the top of Thursday's story in the Post.

That statehouse is ours, and the Post's story begins with the email - tampered with and sent to the Nashville District Attorney's office to seek the arrest of a black Vanderbilt divinity student and civil rights activist in Nashville.

The student, Justin Jones, was first arrested during a Feb. 28 protest over the Capitol statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and early member of the Ku Klux Klan. Days later, prosecutors sought to revoke his bail, saying he had violated the terms that he avoid contact with Casada. Prosecutors claimed he had emailed Casada the next day. He said he hadn't emailed the lawmaker since before the protest.

It turned out that prosecutors had been sent a reproduction of an email seeking a meeting - a reproduction now dated March 1, even though the original, which Jones still had, was sent and dated Feb. 25. The person who sent the reproduction to prosecutors was, you guessed it, that top aide, Cade Cothren, Casada's chief of staff.

Nashville television station News Channel 5 headlined its May 2 scoop this way: "Did House Speaker's office attempt to frame activist? DA asks for special prosecutor to investigate."

Things went downhill from there, with the disclosure of Cothren's racist text messages, sexist text messages - some with Casada, himself - and Cothren's admission of cocaine use in 2015 and 2016.

When Cothren resigned on Monday, Casada - who a week before had accused the TV station of fabricating the text messages - said in a statement that Cothren had come to him "nearly three years ago" and "confided in me that he was dealing with some personal issues and wanted to seek help after his struggles became apparent."

"Politics has become a game of 'gotcha' with no thought of forgiveness and starting anew," Casada said in the statement. "I choose to believe that we all deserve a shot at redemption. I gave Mr. Cothren this chance to prove himself, and that's exactly what he has done."

(You might recall that Casada has previously advocated drug testing for welfare recipients.)

But the topper of all this is the wholesale eavesdropping in Capitol offices revealed by the Tennessean this week.

"Until Tuesday, on the sixth floor of the legislature's Cordell Hull building, Casada's former chief of staff Cade Cothren sat in a sparsely decorated office. Two large television screens on the wall across from his desk allowed Cothren to simultaneously watch Fox News and view all House committee rooms. Cothren had the ability to eavesdrop on the legislative committee rooms at all times, whether or not the panels were meeting. ... Cothren said earlier this year the system gave him the ability to not only view the rooms at all times but he could also listen to any conversations in the rooms."

The paper wrote that Cothren had bragged earlier this year to a reporter about his ability to listen into committee rooms at any time. But, wrote the Tennessean, Cothren denied those comments late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

The Tennessean also alleged that Casada "allowed his now-former chief of staff to eavesdrop on committee rooms." The paper says some lawmakers in recent days said they have or plan to have their offices checked for recording devices.

Casada has dismissed the notion that his office would "bug someone else's office" calling it "laughable and patently false.

But you have to wonder: Why, was a "white noise" system installed in the ceilings of the hallways inside and outside Casada's office? White noise machines are used to diminish the potential for recording or overhearing conversations. Other rooms are bugged. Casada's is bug-proofed.

Alex Little, a Nashville criminal defense lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told the Tennessean that, if true, the eavesdropping would appear to amount to a federal wiretapping offense for political advantage.

On Wednesday, House minority caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, called for an investigation into the claims of political surveillance and eavesdropping.

Meanwhile, calls for Casada to step down - or for other lawmakers to oust him - are gaining volume.