Tennessee speaker’s top aide admits using cocaine at work

CADE COTHREN

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The Tennessee House speaker’s chief of staff on Monday admitted using cocaine in a legislative office building when he held a previous job, but he did not directly respond to allegations that he also had sent texts using a racial slur and calling black people idiots.

Cade Cothren, chief of staff to House Speaker Glen Casada, also declined to respond to allegations that he may have tampered with evidence in a criminal case, an allegation that Casada, when pressed, called “absolutely false.”

Regarding the drug use, Cothren said in a statement that he faced pressure and high expectations during his career, where he “unfortunately turned to maladaptive coping mechanisms.”

“Like so many young, egotistical men aspiring to a career in politics that came before me, moving up the career ladder was met with unrelenting stress, peer pressure, and unrealistic expectations. I know that this is not an excuse,” Cothren said.

While the statement doesn’t mention any specific drug, Cothren confirmed to news outlets that he used cocaine at work several years ago, but said he no longer does. At the time of the drug use, he was press secretary for the Tennessee House Republican Caucus, according to WTVF-TV, which first reported all of the allegations. He became Casada’s chief of staff this year.

In the statement, Casada said Cothren told him of the drug use nearly three years ago, and that he decided then to give his aide another chance.

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

Cothren has faced scrutiny since last week, when WTVF-TV first reported that he sent texts in which he allegedly used a racial slur and called black people idiots. On Monday, the TV station said it had also seen texts in which Cothren bragged about his drug use.

In Monday’s statement, Cothren said he had “sent some” of the texts, but did not clarify which ones.

“Because this happened several years ago, I can sincerely say it is hard for me to remember things with absolute clarity,” Cothren said in an email to The Associated Press.

“I can confirm, however, that I have said and done things in the past that I’m not proud of and I won’t hide from that. However, those who know my heart, know that I am nothing even remotely resembling a racist,” he said.

The TV station also reported that Cothren may have tampered with evidence by making it look like student activist Justin Jones sent an email to Casada in violation of his bond conditions after his arrest in February during protests at Casada’s office.

Jones has argued that he actually wrote the email to Casada before his arrest and that someone changed the date to make it look like it was afterward.

When pressed by reporters, Casada called the allegations “absolutely false.” Cothren has refused to answer questions about it.

The district attorney’s office also has since requested that a special prosecutor take over Jones’ case because the email’s authenticity has not been verified.

While Democratic lawmakers and others have called for Cothren to resign, Casada and other top Republicans have continued to defend him.

Cothren earns nearly $200,000 a year as Casada’s chief of staff.

“Think about the fact that a black man is in jail for having a little marijuana while Cade snorted coke in the legislature and gets paid $200k,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville. “Seems only certain folks get a second chance in the Speaker’s view.”

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