A Meridian man has recanted — sort of — his story that he helped U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran's campaign buy votes for $15 each in Lauderdale County.
Stevie Fielder now says he was asked to buy votes — by someone he won't identify — but that he refused because "I would be in jail because that's illegal." He says he has talked with the state attorney general's office.
"I haven't done anything illegal," said Fielder, who made national news after a lengthy interview with GotNews.com. In that audio-recorded interview, Fielder said he received thousands of dollars in envelopes from Cochran campaign staffer Saleem Baird and paid hundreds of people in the African-American community around Meridian $15 each for their votes. He also indicated he had discussed the issue with then-Cochran campaign manager Kirk Sims and operations manager Amanda Shook.
Listen to a full interview with Fielder here
The Breitbart news site, after the GotNews report, said Fielder in a brief phone interview reconfirmed the allegations.
Now Fielder is claiming he was talking "hypothetical" and the recording of the interview must have been selectively edited. But then he appeared to contradict this at one point, saying, "Maybe I got out there and said, gave an interview to somebody that I shouldn't have talked to … I'm not trying to take away the recording."
Charles C. Johnson with GotNews said the audio of the interview was not altered.
"What was said and what was recorded on that tape was not meant to show in any way that I took anyone to the polls and voted," Fielder said Thursday, "nor did Mr. Cochran and them ask me to do that, not Kirk or any of his other people … in the upper echelon (of the campaign)."
But Fielder danced around the issue when asked if Baird, minority outreach director for the Cochran campaign, asked him to help buy votes.
"I was aware of a person who wanted to do that," Fielder said. "I don't think that right now is the time (to say who). I'm giving them the opportunity to tell it themselves. I know it was mentioned to me and I refused to do it, and my interview was only a hypothetical …."
Fielder said he would name the person if they don't soon "clear this up," and "Right now I am not saying it was someone with the campaign and I'm not saying it was not." He said Baird is "one of the people that should be talking to some of you all and not me."
Baird, on leave as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker while he works on Cochran's campaign, has been unavailable for comment through repeated attempts for more than a week. The Cochran campaign said he was unavailable Thursday and would not likely be making any comments.
The Cochran campaign has called allegations of vote buying "baseless." But state Sen. Chris McDaniel claims Cochran "stole" the June 24 GOP primary runoff from him through illegal voting by "liberal Democrats." In a letter to supporters asking for donations to help his challenge, and offering cash rewards for evidence of voter fraud, McDaniel said "Sen. Thad Cochran's campaign allegedly paid $15 per vote to steal the June 24 primary election."The Cochran campaign has called on McDaniel to "put up or shut up" about illegal voting allegations.
Asked this week whether Attorney General Jim Hood was looking into allegations of voter fraud, a spokeswoman said, "It is our policy to neither confirm nor deny what we may or may not be looking into."
Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell on Thursday said: "As we've said from the beginning, we would not, and have not been, involved in any vote buying, and I'm glad that Mr. Fielder cleared that up … There is no evidence of that. We didn't do it. Saleem didn't do it.
"There is one guy, in the whole state, who said something, then turns around and recants. If we were buying votes, others would be saying it."
The Cochran campaign says it hired Fielder for get-out-the-vote work, and agreed to pay him $600, half up front. Russell said Fielder didn't follow through, and was only paid $300.
Fielder claims the campaign agreed to pay him $16,000, but stiffed him. On Thursday he stood by that claim.
Fielder says he was paid for the GotNews interview, but wouldn't say how much or by whom.
Fellow church members at First Missionary Baptist Church in Meridian, including a longtime county Democratic Party official, said they doubted Fielder's story of vote buying, saw no evidence of it, and question his overall veracity.