Tennessee’s speaker of the House has come under fire for his continued defense of a Republican colleague accused of sexual assault by three women, the Tennessean reported Tuesday.
“I don’t think they’re lying,” Speaker Glen Casada said of the accusers in a recording published Tuesday from a town hall last month. “I think they’re believing something that’s not true.”
His statements were only his most recent defenses of his colleague, Rep. David Byrd. Byrd, who was reelected by more than 55 points in November, was accused in March 2018 of having assaulted three women when they were high school athletes in the 1980s. Byrd, who was 28 at the time of the alleged assaults, coached at the school for 24 years.
According to allegations aired by WSMV, Byrd is accused of touching one of the women under her clothes in his hotel room during a team trip. A second woman said he had tried to touch her genitals while the two were in a hotel swimming pool during a trip. He allegedly had touched the third woman over her clothes and pulled her hands toward his genitals, telling her, “you owe me.” He also asked to see her naked.
The third woman secretly recorded Byrd in a call she made to him last spring. In the call, Byrd apologizes for an unstated action and tells her he thinks about what happened often and asks for forgiveness for his sins every Sunday. “I’ve lived with that,” he said in the call. “You don’t know how hard it has been for me.” The boys basketball coach from that period also said he remembered Byrd admitting to an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student.
The report of the allegations led Casada’s predecessor, House Speaker Beth Harwell, to call for Byrd to resign. Harwell, who retired to run unsuccessfully for governor, had also ordered investigations of former state Rep. Jeremy Durham, who was kicked out of office over a 2016 sexual assault scandal in which it was found he had engaged in sexual misconduct with at least 22 women. Harwell also mandated sexual assault training for legislators. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, also a Republican, joined her in calling for Byrd’s resignation.
But Casada, in contrast, has stood firm in his support for Byrd. Last fall, a political action committee run by Casada published a video comparing him favorably to President Trump and Justice Kavanaugh. All three men had been victims of “fake news” and “unhinged liberals,” according to the ads.
When Casada’s critic in the recent video—a former Democratic congressional candidate named Justin Kanew—reminded Casada he ran ads calling the women “fake news,” Casada responded, “yeah, I do.” In the exchange, Casada also asked why the women had waited so long to come forward. When asked if he would look into the allegations, Casada said: “It’s a civil issue. Why are they not taking this to court? Maybe they know they can’t win.”
When Kanew asked Casada if he was aware that the three women had been punished by the community for speaking out with their allegations of assault, Casada responded with some skepticism about the complaint. “It’d be important to me if I was raped; I would move,” Casada said. “And hell would have no fury.”
“I don’t think you can really answer the question of what you would do if you were raped as a woman in rural Tennessee,” Kanew replied.
“Or as a man, I could,” Casada said. “There are just certain codes of conduct.”
In response to questions about the video, Casada released a statement reaffirming his support for Byrd. “One of the most sacred rights we have as Americans is the concept of being innocent until proven guilty,” Casada said in the statement. “Rep. Byrd is doing a fantastic job as Chairman of our Education Administration Subcommittee and I am proud he has agreed to serve.”