Updated: May 20, 2014, 5:22 PM
The Mississippi Senate race has been dominated by one story over the past few days: the arrest of political blogger Clayton Kelly for allegedly breaking in to a nursing home to photograph the wife of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). He has been charged with the exploitation of a vulnerable adult under the Vulnerable Adults Act passed in 2001. Since the arrest the campaign of state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is challenging Cochran in the Republican primary, has tried to create as much distance from Kelly as possible (Kelly supports McDaniel). Below is a timeline of events as we understand them now. The story is still developing.
• Kelly went to go see Sen. Cochran’s wife, Rose Cochran, at St. Catherine’s Village in Madison, both Clayton’s wife Tara Kelly and attorney Kevin Camp told the Clarion Ledger.
• On April 26 a video featuring a still-shot of Rose Cochran was uploaded to YouTube. According to the Clarion-Ledger, Rose Cochran has dementia and has lived in the nursing home for 14 years. The video was taken down soon, some reports say within two hours, after it was posted.
• McDaniel campaign manager Melanie Sojourner sent out an email to campaign staff prior to the video’s removal, saying the clip “must come down ASAP. Does anyone know where this came from?” That’s according to a Breitbart.com report published on Monday. It’s unclear as of now how the McDaniel campaign first learned of the video.
• The video caught the Cochran campaign’s attention as well. According to The Hill on Monday, the campaign conducted its own investigation and then alerted Cochran himself of the video. Attorneys for Cochran were also alerted to the video’s existence.
• The McDaniel campaign seemed to start reaching out to other Republicans in the state to quietly disavow the video. Joe Nosef, the chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party told TPM that Scott Brewster, the coalition director for the McDaniel campaign, texted him in April regarding the video. Nosef said that Brewster told him the McDaniel campaign was not behind the video and “personally making calls to stop it.” Brewster did not return requests for comment from TPM.
“One of the McDaniel staffers reached out to me and said they were trying to get something off of social media and they were doing their best to stop recent activity or something and my response was, it was by text message, and my response was ‘I don’t even really know what you’re talking about,'” Nosef said. “And he said something about it and it was a reference to this video that had been put on YouTube that apparently had this picture in it.”
• Clayton Kelly was arrested Friday night.
• At 11:17 PM, the Madison, Mississippi police department sent out a press release that said it received information about a break-in. Here’s the release:
The Madison Police Department received information on May 15th, 2014 concerning the possible exploitation of a vulnerable adult resident at St. Catherine’s Village located at 200 Dominican Drive in the City of Madison. As a result of the investigation, it was determined that Clayton Thomas Kelly – age 28 – of 3127 Greenfield Road Pearl, Ms had illegally and improperly obtained an image of a vulnerable adult resident without their consent for his own benefit. Clayton Kelly’s bond is set at $100,000.00 and he is currently being held at the Madison County Detention Center. The matter remains under investigation by the Madison Police Department.
• At 11:40 PM on Friday the local politics blog Jackson Jambalaya reported, “Madison Police arrest Clayton Kelly for sneaking into St. Catherine’s Village.” Like the Madison Police Department press release, the initial blog post did not name Rose Cochran.
• At approximately 7:45 AM on Saturday morning Sojourner called Cochran campaign manager Kirk Sims. Sojourner asked to connect McDaniel to Cochran and said the campaign found out about Kelly’s arrest the night before. Sojourner said both she and McDaniel himself had been aware of Kelly’s presence on the web and that he was doing some “insane stuff.”
“We found out about it and Chris and I immediately sicced a bunch of volunteers to find out who was the source of a lot of ugly rumors and nasty stuff and we wanted it squashed because from day one I have demanded that our staff not get involved in certain aspects of Sen. Cochran’s personal life,” Sojourner said in the voicemail, which was released on Sunday by a Cochran aide to the Clarion-Ledger.
• At 9:24 AM CDT the Clarion-Ledger broke the news that Kelly had been arrested for breaking into St. Catherine’s Village.
• The Clarion-Ledger reached the McDaniel campaign’s Noel Fritsch at 9:47 AM who says he did not know anything about the arrest and hadn’t heard of Kelly before.
• McDaniel, in an interview with The Hill on Saturday after the Clarion-Ledger story was published, said he had not heard of Kelly’s arrest.
“I don’t guess I’ve been awake long enough to see what’s happened,” McDaniel said in the interview.
• At 4:28 PM the McDaniel campaign released a new statement saying that it learned at 11:40 PM on Friday about Kelly’s arrest for photographing Rose Cochran. The statement suggests the campaign first heard through the Jambalaya Jackson post. The statement said:
The McDaniel campaign found out about the break in when a local political blog posted about it at 11:40 p.m. last night. Senator McDaniel has denounced the break-in and called Senator Cochran to extend his condolences. It is unconscionable for the Cochran campaign and the liberal media to use the act of a sick individual to lob despicable accusations.
• The Clarion-Ledger, Saturday evening, revealed that the McDaniel campaign knew about aspects of the break-in prior to it being publicized. At this point it became increasingly apparent that the McDaniel campaign had given contradictory statements.
• The Cochran campaign on Sunday released the audio recording of Sojourner’s voicemail to Sims.
• The McDaniel campaign responded to the voicemail’s release by slamming the Cochran campaign. “We are shocked and appalled, by how the Cochran campaign is using the actions of a sick individual to slander Chris McDaniel,” the statement from the campaign said.
• Sunday evening Kelly remained in jail after a first appearance in court that evening. Bail was set at $100,000 and Judge Dale Danks set a preliminary hearing for Thursday.
• Monday morning the Clarion-Ledger tweeted that Chris McDaniel was scheduled to meet with the editorial board and the paper plans on giving live updates. The McDaniel campaign quickly canceled, citing a scheduling conflict.
• The Clarion-Ledger confronted the McDaniel campaign’s explanation for the editorial meeting cancellation and asks the campaign about it. Fritsch, who had said the scheduling conflict was with a public event listed on the latest media advisory, insisted it was actually a private event.
• On Monday evening Kelly’s wife and Kelly’s attorney said in an interview with the Clarion-Ledger that he was just a “pawn” in a larger political game and had been pushed by anonymous sources to try and get a still shot of Rose Cochran.
• The Clarion-Ledger published an interview with Tara Kelly, Clayton Kelly’s wife, in which she said that McDaniel himself ordered him to take down the video.