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A composite graphic including Donald Trump, Brandon Presley and Tate Reeves
Graphic courtesy Kristin Brenemen

Fact Check: No Proof Reeves ‘Steered’ Millions in Welfare Funds To Illegal Purposes

As former President Donald Trump faced his third indictment in four months, this time on charges he conspired to overthrow the 2020 election, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves characterized it as nothing more than “the Biden Administration’s attempts to interfere in the election by weaponizing law enforcement.”

But Mississippians, like all Americans, saw with our own eyes that Trump spent months spreading conspiracy theories—repeatedly debunked in court—claiming the election was stolen from him before ultimately urging a crowd to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” on January 6th. And we know that Trump was investigated by an independent special counsel—not President Joe Biden—and that courts will ultimately determine his guilt.

We’re used to partisans like the governor responding this way, though. They dutifully defend their own party leaders and deflect unpleasant facts, no matter how damning. They wantonly declare their political opponents guilty of alleged crimes, no matter how little evidence exists in hopes the media will obediently repeat those claims enough to make them true in the minds of voters. (Recall the national media’s two-year obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails, only for the FBI and even GOP congressional investigations to find no evidence of a crime).

Presley Claims Reeves ‘Steered’ Welfare Funds to Rich Friends

Reeves himself has been targeted with unsubstantiated allegations of crimes. Some partisan Democrats in Mississippi have moved on from painting former Gov. Phil Bryant—who has not been charged with a crime or proven to have committed one or, apparently, been interviewed by investigators to date—as the mastermind of the welfare scandal and are now seeking to pin the bulk of the blame on Reeves.

A week after Bryant sued online news publication Mississippi Today for an article claiming he “used his office to steer millions of state welfare dollars to benefit his family and friends,” his Democratic opponent Brandon Presley put an ad out implying it was Tate Reeves who oversaw the steering of millions of dollars “to help his rich friends” as part of the welfare scandal.

“Under Tate Reeves, millions were steered from education and job programs to help his rich friends,” an artfully passive voiceover says in a new Presley ad.

As a news organization, we cannot say that Bryant or Reeves “steered” welfare funds to illegal uses; those allegations remain unproven by the facts available to us. Reeves even cited our reporting and my tweets in an ad his campaign released Thursday, saying that “even the liberal press” (whatever) “agrees … there is no evidence he played a role.”

But just because we resist partisan pushes for us to extrajudicially declare Bryant or Reeves guilty of unproven crimes doesn’t mean we can exonerate them before the investigations conclude, either. At the very least, Reeves had a responsibility, as the person who was lieutenant governor and thus Mississippi Senate president at the time the welfare fraud happened between 2016 and 2019, of performing oversight over how legislatively appropriated funds were being used.

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Why didn’t our state’s leaders show enough care for our state’s poorest to interrogate why the Mississippi Department of Human Services was denying nearly 99% of Temporary Assistance For Needy Families applicants in 2016? And why haven’t current Republican leaders in the Legislature held bipartisan hearings since the scandal broke in 2020? Those are fair questions.

Our Job Isn’t to Assign Guilt

The party primaries for statewide offices and legislative seats are on Aug. 8, when Reeves will face two little-known challengers, and Presley will be on the Democratic ballot with no opponent. Lt. Gov. Hosemann will also face GOP primary opponent Chris McDaniel in another race where we’ve had to check facts on McDaniel’s claims that Hosemann ran an abortion clinic and Hosemann’s accusations that McDaniel doesn’t live where he says he does. Because that’s what we do during the political silly season. And let’s be honest: It’s always political silly season in Mississippi, where every year is an election year. (Sigh).

Donald Trump will be tried in courts, and his fate will ultimately be determined by juries of his peers for alleged crimes in New York, Florida and Washington, D.C.—not by the Biden administration. Mississippi’s welfare fraud case will remain in the hands of state and federal investigators, and the guilt of any additional defendants will similarly be determined in state and federal courts—not in the press. That’s not our job. And we, as journalists at the Mississippi Free Press, will continue to focus on pursuing the truth and reporting the facts as we find them—not as partisans wish we would report them. That is our job.

Democracy matters to us, which is why in addition to arming voters with facts, we’ve also ensured voters have easily accessible lists of all voting precincts statewide and information on which precincts have changed since 2022 before you head out to vote in Aug. 8 primaries. You can view those and more at

And please support and help us grow our democracy-building journalism with a one-time or recurring donation, in any amount you can give, at

This fact check was originally published as an editor’s note in the Mississippi Free Press weekend newsletter on Aug. 5, 2023.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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