Clayton Kelly, the aspiring Mississippi political blogger who entered the nursing home room of Senator Thad Cochran’s comatose wife to take cell phone video for a YouTube hit piece, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and the same amount of time on probation yesterday. Though he is unlikely to serve the full sentence, Kelly did not escape jail time by cooperating and pleading guilty to conspiracy because of a previous felony marijuana conviction.
At trial, the state presented evidence gleaned from email and social media accounts belonging to Kelly and three men connected to the Chris McDaniel campaign which shows them making a clumsy effort to cover up the scheme. According to the The Clarion-Ledger, Kelly was warned to avoid any appearance of coordination with the Chris McDaniel campaign.
“We need you to have no more contact with the campaign,” John Mary, a.k.a. John Bert, messaged Clayton Kelly one day last February. “What we are going to do will be EXPLOSIVE. The other side will be hunting for ANY connection to you.”
The ringleader, Mary was a close confidant of McDaniel who communicated with Kelly through his talk radio persona on Facebook. Pleading guilty to felony conspiracy to commit a computer crime the same day he turned himself in, Mary will not spend a day in jail. Rick Sager, who seems to have been the group’s Twitter user, also pleaded guilty and will serve no time.
Mark Mayfield, a Mississippi Tea Party leader and attorney who also participated in the conspiracy, took his own life in June of 2014. As reported by BU at the time, Mayfield had organized several speaking events that were advertised by the white supremacist Mississippi Council of Conservative Citizens WordPress blog, and speakers included insane birther and genocide apologist Brigitte Gabriel.
The Clarion-Ledger notes that Kelly was at the bottom of the conspiracy, not the top:
[Judge William] Chapman said it’s been his experience with armed robberies and other crimes that the smarter criminals talk the less intelligent ones into doing the actual crime.
“This defendant probably fits into that category,” Chapman said.
It was obvious from the beginning that the 29 year-old Kelly’s video must be connected to the McDaniel campaign, which knew about its existence ninety minutes before anyone else did. All four men arrested for the intrusion were McDaniel supporters, and early reporting indicated that Kelly had made two prior attempts to obtain the same video. In an interview with the Clarion-Ledger, Kelly’s wife Tara stated that her husband had been ordered to take the video down ninety minutes after he posted it.
The brutal primary race between Chris McDaniel and incumbent Thad Cochran was by far the dirtiest election of the 2014 midterms, and also one of the most expensive. Concerned that McDaniel could lose the race to a Democrat, the national Republican Party poured millions of dollars into the race. But as a grassroots Tea Party favorite, McDaniel also enjoyed huge outside support and funding from the most reactionary elements of the conservative movement.
Forced into a runoff with McDaniel, Cochran began a first-person campaign in earnest and encouraged crossover voting to win easily. McDaniel then tried to overturn the results in Mississippi courts while the right wing “voting integrity” organization True The Vote filed a lawsuit to obtain access to sensitive voter information. McDaniel was denied at the state supreme court and the litigation by TTV was dismissed.
Rose Cochran, who suffered from dementia, had been unconscious for years when Kelly entered her room to take his video. Reporting the story from a Tea Party perspective, Matthew Boyle of Breitbart.com focused on rumors of the incumbent senator’s relationship to Kay Webber, a longtime aide, insinuating a lack of concern for Rose’s wakeless feelings.
According to The Clarion-Ledger, Rose and Thad’s son made a brief statement to the court.
“I’m here as much to mourn my mother as to condemn anybody who perpetrated the crimes that have been discussed,” Clayton Cochran said. “She was a lovely woman. We miss her, and she lives in our hearts.”
Acting at the instigation of men within the McDaniel campaign, Clayton Kelly’s stolen video was intended to convince Mississippi voters that Rose did not live in Thad Cochran’s heart at all. Not only did they fail, but in the final analysis they probably did their favored candidate lasting political harm: Chris McDaniel has never been elected to public office, but he already has a Nixon-style scandal permanently attached to his name.