NASHVILLE, Tennessee–State Representative Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) is suing Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) over an ongoing investigation into conduct he says is not legally authorized.
On Friday, Durham dropped the legal bombshell in Davidson County Chancery Court, in which he “challenged the constitutionality of the investigation into allegations against him, which violated both the separation of powers doctrine found in . . . the Tennessee Constitution and his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Speaker Harwell announced in January that Attorney General Slatery would, at her request, be conducting an investigation of Durham over allegations of sexual harassment reported in the media. One week later, presumably upon discovering she did not have the legal authority to request such an investigation, Speaker Harwell formed a four-member Ad Hoc Select Committee to serve as the authorizing body for the investigation within the House of Representatives.
As Breitbart News reported previously:
The scope and legal authority of an ongoing investigation by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery into the conduct of State Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) is being questioned by a number of Tennessee political insiders, attorneys, and individuals interviewed by the investigators who have spoken with Breitbart News
In the complaint, in which the conservative legislator is also suing the Ad Hoc Select Committee, Durham’s attorney William Harbison, argued that:
On February 8, 2016, and Ad Hoc Select Committee of the Tennessee House of Representatives of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly purportedly adopted a resolution designating the Office of the Attorney General as counsel and investigator into Plaintiff’s alleged violations of House Rules.
This unauthorized investigation constituted a blatant violation of the separation of powers doctrine. Further, the Attorney General’s office failed to inform Plaintiff of the accusations against him, failed to allow him or his representatives to meet with the committee, failed to inform Plaintiff of the contents of its investigative findings prior to recommending a “punishment,” and has, to date, failed to inform Plaintiff of the exact nature of the accusations against him–all violations of his due process rights.
In addition, the complaint asserts, “Speaker Harwell called for an independent investigation, yet has publicly on multiple occasions made clear that she wants Rep. Durham to resign.”
Politics, not the law, are at the core of the investigation, the complaint alleges:
The Attorney General’s preliminary report was issued just minutes prior to the deadline to sign up for re-election. Just days before early voting begins in a highly contested race, media reports indicate that the Attorney General or the Committee plans on releasing some report.
Durham has been a strong champion of conservative causes in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
He was the lead sponsor of the Stop Obamacare Act, which became law, and voted to end the unpopular Hall Income Tax, another effort that succeeded, and also voted in favor of a joint resolution that passed and has now authorized the Tennessee General Assembly to sue the federal government on Tenth Amendment grounds over the operation of the refugee resettlement program in the Volunteer State.
Durham is involved in a hotly contested primary to retain his seat against former Army colonel Sam Whitson.
Both sides are well financed, and both sides are benefiting from the involvement of outside political action committees.
The primary will be held on August 4, and early voting begins next week.
The Durham camp argues that the pending public release of the Attorney General’s investigation into his conduct just days before the beginning of early voting is politically motivated to sway voters to cast their ballots for his opponent.
Breitbart News spoke with several people who were questioned by investigators from the Attorney General’s office, who “tell Breitbart News that investigators have merely asked cursory questions about Durham, then have begun to probe about the conduct of other legislators and women who have had any professional or personal contact with either Durham or other legislators.”:
In addition, investigators have demanded, without warrants, that many of those questioned hand over their personal cell phones so that all of the data in the phone can be downloaded for review by the investigators. While some of those who have been interviewed by the investigation have complied with this request, others have refused to do so.
Three of those “interviewed by investigators from the Attorney General ‘s office” spoke with Breitbart News, “and they tell a consistent story of attempts at intimidation and an investigation fishing for evidence.”:
I was interviewed by two people, a woman named Linda and a guy named Scott. They didn’t leave business cards. They asked more questions about others than they did Jeremy Durham,” one person who was interviewed by investigators from the Attorney General’s office tells Breitbart News.
“They briefly asked about him, but mainly they asked me about the women he allegedly harassed and other legislators. They were hunting down gossip on them,” the person says.
“It was good cop, bad cop. Linda was the good cop. Scott, the guy, was really aggressive. It got much more intense.”
“The takeaway for me was, my God, I’m only here to talk about other people,” the first individual adds.
“They were on a fishing expedition. They didn’t have anything,” is how a second person who was interviewed by investigators from the Attorney General’s office describes the experience to Breitbart News.
“It has the appearance they were expanding the scope of the inquiry beyond Jeremy Durham to other state legislators. That’s a frightening thought. Somebody’s gathering information for future use,” the second person tells Breitbart News.
“It was more intimidating than I ever thought it would be. They made it seem as though I was on trial for knowing these rumors,” the first person who spoke with Breitbart News and was interviewed by the investigators says.
“You can imagine if you were a 24-year-old woman being interviewed by these staffers from the Attorney General’s office, not really familiar with the State Legislature, you can imagine how that would feel,” the first person continues.
“It wasn’t fair of these staffers in the Attorney General’s office to question these women who some people think are too friendly… the questions implied they were sleeping with someone, and they were withholding information from the investigators,” the first person adds.
A third person tells Breitbart News their interview was conducted by two staff attorneys from the Attorney General’s office, a woman of about 60, and a middle aged man with dark hair.
“They asked me if Jeremy Durham had ever made sexual advances towards me. I laughed and told them no. Then they asked me if I considered Jeremy my friend, and I said, yes, I do consider him a friend,” the third person says.
“There were two staff attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office and a special investigator when I was interviewed,” the second person who was interviewed by investigators tells Breitbart News.
“The special investigator took the lead asking the questions. He was older. He had white hair and was very neatly put together, like an FBI agent. He wanted to know were Jeremy Durham and I friends, did we hang around in the evening, did we socialize together. What did I know first hand. What did I know rumor-wise,” the second person says.
“Then they wanted to know the names of the young women, several different women, who had told me Jeremy Durham had not harassed them. They wanted their names. But the women wanted to be anonymous.”
“The investigators really pushed me. ‘We can subpoena you,’ they said. ‘You’ll have to, because I’m not going to tell you,’ I told them,” the second person adds.
“They asked me questions in a way to see if I was telling them the truth. They would go back to ask a question a different way throughout the 45 minute interview,” the second person notes.
One person who was among the dozens interviewed by the Attorney General’s office tells Breitbart News that Associate Attorney General Bill Young made a personal visit to their office to schedule that interview.
“Just what is it you’re looking for? What do you think Jeremy Durham has done?” that person asked Young.
“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Young replied.
“In my mind, that just fell in with the witch hunt that I feel like they’re on,” the person tells Breitbart News of Young’s response.
One member of the Ad Hoc Committee, State Representative Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg) has called for the dissolution of the committee and the end of the Attorney General’s investigation of Durham:
Spivey wants to revoke the Attorney General’s “authorization to investigate” by dissolving the Ad Hoc Committee that initially granted that authorization.
“Dissolving a practically powerless Ad Hoc Committee and thereby removing the basis for the Attorney General’s ongoing investigation seems to be the most reasonable and wise course of action left available to us at this time,” Spivey says in the letter dated June 15.
“At this point the political fate of Representative Durham is best left in the capable hands of his voting constituents,” he concludes.
Durham’s case has additional support from State Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale), who sent a letter to Slatery on Friday blasting the Attorney General’s May 26 opinion, issued in response to an earlier request from Womick, on his authority to conduct the investigation of Durham.
“There are several legal and Constitutional inconsistencies with your [May 26] opinion,” Womick wrote.
“By your own admission,” Womick continued, “and by Speaker Harwell’s public admission, you both initiated and began an independent investigation of Representative Jeremy Durham in late January, somewhere around the January 27th, 2016 time frame.”
“The one on one collusion between you and Speaker Harwell to conduct an independent investigation withought Article II, Section 12 approval by the full house of the Tennessee House of Representatives, is a scandalous violation of the Distribution of Powers contained in Article II, Sections 1 and 2 of the Tennessee State Constitution,” Womack added.
In his suit, Durham asked the court to issue a “temporary injunction enjoining the Attorney General’s Office or [the Ad Hoc Select] Committee from releasing its report on its investigation into the allegations against Rep. Durham.”
He also asked that the court declare “that Speaker Harwell’s initiation of an investigation prior to a formal resolution is a violation of due process,” and “that the Ad Hoc Select committee’s designation of the Attorney General as counsel and investigator into the alleged disorderly conduct is a violation of Article II, section 2, of the Tennessee Constitution.”
It is unclear if Durham’s request for a temporary injunction will be granted by the court prior to the release of the Attorney General’s report, or the beginning of early voting in the Republican primary.
A hearing will be held on the request in Chancery Court on Tuesday.