Tenn. Senator Brian Kelsey calls federal indictment against him a ‘political witch hunt’
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey describes the five-count federal indictment against him as “a political witch hunt” by the Biden Administration and Democrats.
A federal grand jury indicted Kelsey on five counts, accusing him of conspiring with others to violate federal campaign finance laws during his unsuccessful 2016 campaign for Congress.
The allegations against Kelsey, a Republican, are spelled out in a 13-page indictment filed Friday in federal court in Nashville.
The indictment was made public Monday morning.
“We’ve seen both Democrats and Republicans finding new ways to push the legal envelope, but I’ve never seen something quite like what Brian Kelsey attempted here,” said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at the Campaign Legal Center.
The Campaign Legal Center is a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group.
After hearing local media reports concerning Kelsey’s spending, the group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017, requesting they investigate Kelsey.
“This was a complicated and orchestrated scheme to violate a number of federal campaign finance laws in connection with his failed 2016 congressional race,” said Fischer. “The money trail here is very clear.”
The federal indictment accuses the 43-year-old Kelsey and Nashville social club owner Joshua Smith, 44, of conspiring with others to illegally move money from Kelsey’s state Senate campaign to his federal campaign.
The indictment also accuses Kelsey of causing the American Conservative Union, a national political organization, to make illegal and excessive contributions to his federal campaign to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
“These allegations are false. Senator Kelsey committed no crime. He is innocent,” said Ty Howard, Kelsey’s attorney.
Kelsey appeared with his attorney Monday during a press conference.
The press conference lasted less than two minutes and they took no questions from reporters.
“Look, this is nothing but a political witch hunt. The Biden administration is trying to take me out because I’m conservative and I’m the number one target of the Tennessee Democratic Party,” Kelsey said. “I won my seat only 51 to 49 percent last time, and the Democrats think this will make the difference. These five-year-old unfounded allegations have been reviewed and reviewed. They were wrong then and they’re wrong now. I’m totally innocent and I look forward to being cleared at trial.”
Kelsey and Smith were the only two people indicted, but others are mentioned in the indictment, Including Kelsey’s wife, Amanda, who the grand jury calls “Individual 1.”
She worked for the American Conservative Union and was in charge of their political spending.
Two other unnamed co-conspirators are also mentioned, including a former state representative who was expelled in September 2016.
Records show only one state representative was expelled in September 2016, which was former State Representative Jeremy Durham.
Durham was expelled amid sexual misconduct allegations.
As for Kelsey’s accusation of a political witch hunt, Fischer says his organization files complaints against both Republicans and Democrats.
“We are a non-partisan organization. We file complaints against both Democrats and Republicans when we see the laws being violated,” said Fischer. “This appears to be an investigation that was started under the Trump administration and it was well underway before President Biden took office.”
The Tennessee and Shelby County Democratic parties issued the following joint statement about Kelsey’s indictment:
“The indictment of Republican State Senator Brian Kelsey is a reminder of the corruption that exists within our current politics, driven by campaign finance greed that often leads to unlawful activity. The Kelsey indictment is concerning and speaks to the need for campaign finance reform to eliminate future crimes in our state and across the nation.
If these allegations are true, it can’t be missed that Sen. Kelsey has been one of the most vocal advocates of a law and order agenda but has not held himself to those same standards. Like any other citizen, he will face a jury of his peers and we hope that the legal process is thorough and fair. We are a country of laws and no one is above the law, especially not a State Senator.
Our leadership will continue following new developments closely and will act as things precipitate.”
A federal judge has ordered Kelsey and Smith to surrender to U.S. Marshals on or before November 5.
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