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More lawmakers react to Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey’s indictment

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 9:29 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s more reaction to the federal indictment of Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey.

The indictment alleges Kelsey, R-Germantown, conspired with others to violate multiple campaign finance laws during his 2016 run for Congress, including secretly and illegally funneling money from his state Senate campaign to his federal campaign.

Kelsey says he’s innocent and calls the indictment a result of “a political witch hunt” against him.

But that’s not sitting well with some of his fellow lawmakers from Shelby County.

Kelsey has until November 5 to surrender to U.S. Marshals, following his five-count federal indictment.

It accuses Kelsey of conspiring with Nashville social club owner, Joshua Smith, and others to violate multiple campaign finance laws during his 2016 run in the Republican primary for Congress, a race Kelsey placed fourth in.

A defiant Kelsey appeared at a virtual press briefing with his attorney, Ty Howard, hours after the indictment became public on Monday.

“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,” said Kelsey.

Democrats like State Representative Joe Towns say Kelsey is way off base in suggesting the indictment is a political witch hunt.

“That is not true,” said Towns. “That’s the drowning man reaching up for straw. They’re not reaching down looking at him. He’s not that critical in terms of state politics or national politics where someone is targeting him.”

Action News 5 spoke with the Campaign Legal Center, the watchdog group that alerted federal investigators in 2017 to possible wrongdoing by Kelsey.

“With regards to the claims of partisanship, we are a nonpartisan organization. We file complaints against both Democrats and Republicans when we see the laws being violated,” said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at the Campaign Legal Center.

Action News 5 political analyst Mike Nelson says given the investigation started during the Trump administration, Kelsey’s argument is a hard sell.

“This investigation began while Donald Trump was the president and the U.S. attorney was a Republican, so it’s pretty hard to sort of assign responsibility for his legal problem to a political party out to get him,” said Nelson.

Lt. Governor Randy McNally, the Republican Speaker of the Tennessee Senate, issued a statement in response to Kelsey’s indictment.

“I am obviously saddened by this news,” said McNally. “It is important to remember that under our laws, Senator Kelsey is innocent until proven guilty. He will have the opportunity to answer this indictment in the coming days. I have confidence in our judicial system and will reserve judgment and comment at this point in order to allow the process to unfold.”

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