Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has released hundreds of text messages and other documents related to the Mississippi welfare scandal, including text messages with retired NFL star Brett Favre, indicted nonprofit operator Nancy New and others. He made the text messages available shortly before 5 p.m. on the website bryanttexts.com.
You can download those text messages and documents, which were in response to a subpoena for documents related to the Mississippi welfare scandal, at this link. Bryant also released texts with the indicted former Mississippi Director of Human Services John Davis which you can download at this link.
ORIGINAL STORY: Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant says he will release “all” of his text messages related to the State’s massive welfare-fraud scandal, he announced in a video message released to media outlets this morning. In the video message, he referred to himself as the “whistleblower” who brought the misappropriation of $77 million in welfare funds to the attention of State Auditor Shad White in 2019.
Bryant’s team told media outlets that the texts will be released later today.
The former governor decided to release the texts after three state news organizations argued in the Hinds County Circuit Court that the public has a right to access government records. The Mississippi Center for Justice represented the Daily Journal, the Mississippi Free Press and Mississippi Today in the effort. Bryant initially resisted turning over all his texts after several defendants in a civil case subpoenaed them last year.
“For more than a year, the media has pushed a narrative that is simply not true,” Bryant, who left office after finishing his second term in January 2020, says in the video message.
“The fact is, I did nothing wrong. I wasn’t aware of the wrongdoings of others. When I received evidence that suggested people appeared to be misappropriating funds, I immediately reported that to the agency whose job it is to investigate these matters. It’s been a long and difficult year watching as decades of my public service is dragged through the mud and hoping it doesn’t affect those closest to me.”
The former Republican governor from 2012 to 2020 said he made the decision to “simply release them all” after “much thought and discussion with counsel.” He already released some text messages last year that showed his communications with retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and others related to efforts to fund a volleyball stadium at the sports star’s alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi.
Those text messages, which included conversations with since-indicted criminal and civil defendants, drew national headlines as more information became public about an effort to fund the volleyball stadium using Temporary Assistance For Needy Families Funds.
Both Bryant and Favre have said they did not know at the time that officials in the Mississippi Department of Human Services and nonprofit organizations were directing TANF funds to the project. Prosecutors have accused neither Bryant nor Favre of a crime, but Favre is a defendant in an MDHS civil case. Other defendants in the civil case filed a subpoena last year in an effort to compel Bryant to turn over all of his text messages.
Mississippi Free Press Editor & CEO Donna Ladd welcomed the news today.
“I’m happy to learn that former Gov. Phil Bryant is releasing his messages,” she said. “That’s a victory for public transparency. We joined other media outlets in this effort because we believe the public has the right to view those messages to see what, if anything new, they reveal about the theft of federal welfare funds. We’ve been clear since the state auditor and Hinds DA broke the news of the scandal in February 2020 that we have not yet seen evidence that those who are not already charged with a crime are guilty of a crime or have broken a specific law, including Phil Bryant. My hope is that his messages provide more clarity one way or the other.”
Even as Bryant announced plans to release his texts this morning, he criticized the media harshly.
“We all know what’s going to happen next. My text messages will be manipulated through a coordinated effort from a billionaire-driven media outlet and Democratic political consultants,” he said. “These messages will be again mischaracterized into endless fodder for those who want to try to denigrate the success of my terms as governor and castigate Republican candidates in an election year.”
Ladd said today that she cannot speak to Bryant’s allegation about media coverage because it does not apply to the Mississippi Free Press.
“As for Bryant’s comments about a billionaire-driven outlet working with Democratic operatives, it is certainly not true about our nonprofit newsroom,” Ladd said. “Our largest single individual donation to date is $50,000; I’m proud that our people-powered support base is made up of donors starting at $1. Our readers expect MFP to pursue the truth beyond partisanship and allow the chips to fall where they may, avoiding sensationalism, assumptions or taking sides on a political spectrum. We operate daily by that ethos, and that is the measured way we’ve covered the TANF investigation to date, and will continue to.”
You can read a full transcript of Bryant’s video below:
“As the whistleblower that first brought suspected misdeeds at the Mississippi Department of Human Services to the attention of the state auditor in 2019, I’ve been as open and honest as I can be. I sat for an interview, which not surprisingly the media has weaponized against me. They disclosed my communications and mischaracterized my interactions with various individuals to fit their story and generate clickbait headlines.
“For more than a year, the media has pushed a narrative that is simply not true. The fact is, I did nothing wrong. I wasn’t aware of the wrongdoings of others. When I received evidence that suggested people appeared to be misappropriating funds, I immediately reported that to the agency whose job it is to investigate these matters. It’s been a long and difficult year watching as decades of my public service is dragged through the mud and hoping it doesn’t affect those closest to me.
“After much thought and discussion with counsel, I’ve made the decision to forgo any arguments about executive privilege of my text messages in this matter and simply release them all. Frankly, I’m tired of paying legal fees to respond to lawsuits that I’m not a party to in order to protect my privacy and an executive privilege that should exist for future governors.
“What you will find in these text messages is a busy man, a governor of a state communicating in a kind and consistent manner to everyone with whom I dealt. I communicated with hundreds of people every week to accomplish good and to help run state government the best way I knew how. As you would expect from someone with extensive communications, in large part my text messages consist of salutations, thumbs-up emojis, will-dos, and ‘I’ll check on it’ and ‘Sounds good,’ etc. Anyone who takes the time to find these messages will see similar consistencies in my communications. Most of these messages, if not all that the media wants you to see, have already been reported and twisted and reported again.
“As for the Southern Miss volleyball center, over a dozen lawyers from multiple entities approved the transactions. We all now have learned that attorneys from the Institutions of Higher Learning, the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Human Services and Southern Miss, as well as attorneys from multiple nonprofits, all approved that transaction knowing where the money came from. As governor, even if I had wanted to make an expenditure like that happen, I didn’t have the power to do so.
“We all know what’s going to happen next. My text messages will be manipulated through a coordinated effort from a billionaire-driven media outlet and Democratic political consultants. These messages will be again mischaracterized into endless fodder for those who want to try to denigrate the success of my terms as governor and castigate Republican candidates in an election year.
“In short, it will be what most people in Mississippi and throughout the United States have come to expect from the media: the weaponization of half-truths for self-interest or political ends. Make no mistake, this is a targeted attack and meant to cast a cloud over conservative candidates running for office this year. I am simply a means to their end.
“Together you and I have achieved much, whether in public education—which saw tremendous gains in reading—, creating the child protection services agency or having an extremely successful agenda. We made progress. I’m extremely proud of my service as governor and would never have done anything to jeopardize that record. Thank you again for your confidence in me and the truth we now defend. I continue to be blessed in my retirement by my faith and family. And as always, Deborah and I wish you the very best and may God bless you all.”
You can see a timeline of the volleyball saga, including text messages Bryant and others have already released, here. See our full TANF investigation archive at this link.