CANTON, Miss. (AP) — Newly released investigative documents show that during last year’s Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi, supporters of a tea party-backed challenger used phone calls and private Facebook messages to hatch a plan to photograph Sen. Thad Cochran’s ailing wife in a nursing home, and place the photo in a video suggesting Cochran was having an affair with an aide, Kay Webber — an allegation that Cochran’s campaign said was untrue.
Clayton Kelly of Pearl, John Mary of Hattiesburg, Richard “Rick” Sager of Laurel and Mark Mayfield of Ridgeland were charged in a conspiracy to break into a nursing home and photograph the senator’s wife, Rose Cochran, who had dementia.
Mayfield killed himself last year. The cases against Sager, Mary and Kelly have been resolved, and Kelly was the only one sentenced to prison.
Thad Cochran defeated the candidate, Chris McDaniel in a Republican primary runoff, then won the general election. Rose Cochran died in December. Thad Cochran married Webber last month.
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Some excerpts from the investigative documents, with punctuation and capitalization as it appears:
Mary, using the name John Bert on his Facebook account, said in a private message to a person not charged in the case that a video about Cochran’s love life could be called “Guarding Cochran’s Privates.” Mary also wrote in a private message to Kelly: “what we are going to do will be EXPLOSIVE.”
Mary wrote in a message to Mayfield in mid-March 2014 that “obtaining a GOOD clear picture on you know who…would REALLY put teeth into what we are working on…I have put the project on hold waiting to see if you can get it.”
Mayfield, whose mother lived in the same nursing home as Rose Cochran, responded that he could not commit to taking the photo but could get someone into the nursing home.
Mary exchanged dozens of messages with Kelly, who had a blog called “Constitutional Clayton.” Kelly confessed to police that he went into St. Catherine’s Village nursing home in Madison and shot a cellphone video of Rose Cochran, then used a screenshot of her as part of the anti-Thad Cochran video.
Mary and Sager exchanged messages March 25, 2014, about Kelly wanting to take credit for producing and narrating the anti-Cochran video, which included research from both of them.
“I’m fine with whatever,” Sager wrote.
Mary responded: “HE can take credit…i don’t want credit.”
On April 20, 2014, Mary wrote to Sager, who was researching Thad Cochran’s travel records: “GREAT WORK…ACE VENTURA”
Prosecutors said they didn’t establish a direct link between the McDaniel campaign and those who made the video. But, documents show McDaniel was aware of the video soon after it was posted. The morning of April 26, 2014, when the video was online, documents show this exchange of messages:
Kelly: “the McDaniel campaign is already distancing themselves from video”
Sager: “Yes Expected They have to denounce it”
Kelly: “i hope they do and I don’t see as much backlash from them as I do from the rest of the world”
Sager: “You won’t.., they like it being exposed Just publicly it has to be done like this.”
Twelve minutes later, Sager wrote to Kelly: “Hey… From the main guys mouth… He asked if you could pull it down Wants you to hold on to it…. Some of his supporters are calling him about it… It’s getting a bad response.”
A short time later, Sager wrote to Mary: “Chis (sic) not happy Delete everything.”
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .