After audio surfaced Monday of a pastor claiming that Sen. Thad Cochran's campaign was paying black voters — many of them likely Democrats — to vote in the Mississippi Republican primary runoff, Cochran's camp hit back, denying the claims and threatening to sue the pastor and the journalist who relayed his story.
"This [pastor] is obviously a guy who is a liar, who sold his story to a blogger who's openly proclaiming he will pay people to tell him a story," Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell told the Clarion-Ledger.
Russell said the Cochran campaign did hire the pastor, Rev. Stevie Fielder, but he was just one of, "a lot of people, black, white, young, old, to help with get out the vote efforts," and that no vote-buying took place.
The Cochran camp also questioned the journalist, Charles C. Johnson, responsible for the website hosting Fielder's interview.
"[The interview's publicity] comes from a blogger who in the last 24 hours has accused a Mississippi public official of being responsible for an individual's death and had to retract other outlandish accusations regarding another Mississippi elected official," Russell said. "The author of this article admits he paid his source for the story."
In a Breitbart article published Monday, Johnson openly acknowledged and defended the fact that he had paid Fielder, saying, “Why wouldn't I pay for an awesome story?”
“Gawker, the Daily Mail, TMZ all pay for information (and they pay poorly, by the way)," Johnson continued. "There's also a long history of ‘checkbook journalism’ in America. I'm bringing it back. Indeed, every press baron in American history has relied on it. Pulitzer, Hearst, Luce, and, yes, Oprah are all supporters of it. David Frost paid for the Nixon tapes, goodness sake.”
Johnson tweeted Tuesday that the author of the Clarion-Ledger story had not reached out to him for comment.
While Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party challenger who narrowly beat Cochran in the original primary only to lose the runoff last week, continues to consider legal challenges to the outcome, Cochran's people seem to be considering legal action of their own — against Fielder and Johnson.
"If I were these two men, who made the claims or wrote the story, I would be talking to a lawyer," Russell told the Clarion-Ledger. "Because we are most definitely talking to ours."
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