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Sen. Sojourner part of Cochran-McDaniel controversy

JACKSON (AP) — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s campaign is questioning how Chris McDaniel’s campaign manager, state Sen. Melanie Sojourner, apparently knew about Clayton Kelly’s arrest before news broke of him allegedly sneaking into Rose Cochran’s nursing home room and taking photos.

Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell said Sojourner, R-Natchez, left a voice-mail message for Cochran campaign manager Kirk Sims about 7:45 a.m. Saturday, offering condolences over Kelly’s alleged actions and assurance McDaniel’s campaign doesn’t condone it. Russell said Sojourner indicated she had been concerned over the incident since Friday night.

Click here for audio of voicemail left with Cochran campaign.

Madison police arrested Kelly on Friday night. They released a statement about Kelly’s arrest late that night, but neither it and nor initial news reports mentioned Rose Cochran. The release included only a brief statement about his charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult. The blog Jackson Jambalaya was the first to report the arrest and post the statement from Madison police.

A Clarion-Ledger article posted online at 9:24 a.m. broke the news about a connection between the arrest and the Cochrans.

McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch, contacted at 9:47 a.m., said he knew nothing about the arrest or news. McDaniel, interviewed for an article by the Capitol Hill publication The Hill less than an hour after the Clarion-Ledger story broke, said he knew nothing about it and “I don’t guess I’ve been up long enough to see what’s happened.”

Russell said, “This appears to be an inconsistent story,” from McDaniel and his campaign.

“I think it would be interesting to know how (Sojourner) would hear about it before 7:45 a.m.,” Russell said.

Sojourner could not be reached for comment.

Noel Fritsch, spokesman for the Chris McDaniel campaign, issued the following statement:

“The McDaniel campaign found out about the break in when a local political blog posted about it at 11:40 p.m. last night. Senator McDaniel has denounced the break-in and called Senator Cochran to extend his condolences. It is unconscionable for the Cochran campaign and the liberal media to use the act of a sick individual to lob despicable accusations.”

The Clarion-Ledger has asked for clarification on the statement as to which blog reported the arrest was connected to Rose Cochran or how the campaign knew the arrest was related to Rose Cochran, as the only known report Friday night did not mention Cochran’s name.

Tea Party Patriots Chairman Jenny Beth Martin released the following statement on the arrest:

“Exploiting another human being for gain is deplorable in any circumstance. To use the elderly for some sick, perceived political advantage is despicable. We condemn this vile act in no uncertain terms.

“The Defendant has never donated to the Tea Party Patriots or the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund. He is not in any of our data bases, and we have had no email exchanges with him.

“There are plenty of legitimate issues to be debated in this campaign. And while we condemn this criminal act, we look forward to a primary election to decide these issues.”

In recent days, the Tea Party Patriots held press conferences pushing the issue of Cochran’s overseas travel with a female aide from whom the senior senator leases a basement apartment in D.C. They endorsed McDaniel early in the campaign.