JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — As Brett Favre became ensnared in media attention for his connection to Mississippi's sprawling welfare scandal, Gov. Tate Reeves' brother suggested the state official investigating the case praise the retired NFL quarterback.
Screen shots of text messages released Thursday by Reeves' re-election campaign show the governor’s brother, Todd Reeves, passing along a request from Favre to Mississippi State Auditor Shad White for a favorable statement about the retired star athlete. Todd Reeves texted White on May 6, 2020, months after the auditor announced in February that criminal charges were brought against six people accused of diverting welfare money intended for some of the poorest people in the nation to the rich and powerful.
Favre has not been charged with a crime. But he has said the media “ unjustly smeared ” him in coverage of the scandal, including about payments he received to help fund his pet project — a volleyball arena at the university he attended and where his daughter was playing the sport.
“If possible, Brett would like you to say something along the lines of ‘the investigation (shows to this point) Brett has done nothing wrong and the monies he is paying back for commercials and Psa’s is from his own good will,’" Todd Reeves texted White.
Another text from Todd Reeves said reporters were “hounding” Favre.
The campaign for Gov. Reeves, a Republican running for reelection, released the text messages to preempt a story by news outlet Mississippi Today about Reeves’ brother.
On the same day Todd Reeves texted White, the auditor released a statement applauding Favre for repaying $500,000 in money from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“I want to applaud Mr. Favre for his good faith effort to make this right and make the taxpayers and TANF families whole," White said in the 2020 statement. ”To date, we have seen no records indicating Mr. Favre knew that TANF was the program that served as the source of the money he was paid.”
In a statement Friday, Fletcher Freeman, a spokesperson for White, said everything the auditor said in that statement was true at the time.
“Later, when more evidence was uncovered that showed Mr. Favre knew the money was intended for people in ‘shelters’ and that Mr. Favre sought to hide this from the media, Auditor White openly highlighted this for the public,” Freeman said, referring to the misuse of funds intended for anti-poverty initiatives like state-funded shelters. "Auditor White has been brutally honest about Mr. Favre’s involvement here each time new evidence comes out, which is why Mr. Favre has repeatedly attacked him.”
In February, Favre sued White and two national sportscasters for defamation.
In its Thursday news release, Reeves' campaign also shared a statement from Todd Reeves. The governor's brother said he connected Favre and White to facilitate the repayment of misspent TANF money.
“I’ve been friendly with Brett for years, and always heard great things about Shad. I didn’t learn anything about this TANF mess or Brett’s dealings with the state until it was front page news," Todd Reeves said in the statement. “When Brett was considering repaying the funds, he asked me if I could help him get in touch with the auditor to coordinate that--so that’s what I did.”
To date, Favre has repaid $1.1 million he received from a nonprofit that improperly spent TANF funds with approval from the state Department of Human Services. He still owes $228,000 in interest, according to White.
In response to a list of questions emailed by The Associated Press, a Reeves spokesperson said the campaign released every text between Todd Reeves and White.
The welfare scandal has become a flashpoint in Mississippi's gubernatorial race. Reeves has said he had nothing to do with the scandal, while his Democratic opponent, Brandon Presley, has said Reeves didn't do enough to stop it when he was lieutenant governor.
“The Reeves administration has launched lawsuits against everyone who the state believes owes money back, and the only thing that might harm that effort is Democrats lying to make the scandal a campaign issue,” the spokesperson said. "Their claims require belief in time travel. As Todd said in his statement, Brett believed he had done nothing wrong and he was helping to convince him to return the money anyway."
As recently as Wednesday, the auditor's office had been fighting Mississippi Today in court to avoid handing over the text messages in response to public records requests. One day later, the governor's campaign released texts the auditor hadn't wanted to disclose amid an ongoing investigation. There is no indication the governor’s campaign gave the auditor any advance notice about its decision to release the messages, and the campaign did not respond to a question asking if they did.
The auditor's office had argued that releasing the messages could damage its ongoing investigation into the welfare scandal and compromise efforts to recover stolen funds.
“The Auditor’s office has not and will not release any text messages regarding any case because they are part of an investigative file,” Freeman said. “Our job is to investigate stolen or misspent taxpayer funds and then hand the case to prosecutors to do their job.”
The Mississippi Department of Human Services, with a new director, filed a civil lawsuit last year against Favre, along with more than three dozen other people and businesses, to try to recover more than $20 million of the misspent welfare money.
Michael Goldberg, The Associated Press