Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke on Monday responded to a stepped-up attack from the state’s far-right wing, denouncing websites that published accusations from a onetime legislative aide who was investigated by state police four years ago for attempted extortion against the speaker.
The accusations from the former aide, Lissa Cochrane, surfaced last week and significantly escalated the rancor directed at Bedke for sanctioning a North Idaho lawmaker last month who is a champion and favorite of the state’s far right.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, was stripped of her committee assignments by the speaker in the session’s first week for public remarks accusing female colleagues of advancing in legislative seniority via sexual favors. Scott was later reinstated after apologizing to her colleagues.
The news sites shared a story regarding an affidavit Cochrane prepared in late January, after she saw news of Scott’s official rebuke and got in contact with Scott to discuss it.
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I’m not a professional politician. I am a rancher with a good name.
House Speaker Scott Bedke
Cochrane told the Statesman on Monday she spoke to Scott a few times before sending her affidavit to one of the news sites. Scott continued to allege impropriety by lawmakers and had attempted to distribute Cochrane’s affidavit to House colleagues, even as she sought reinstatement to her committees and met to apologize to fellow lawmakers in January.
In the affidavit, Cochrane repeated eccentric and salacious accusations she made against the speaker in 2013. Bedke, of Oakley, addressed the matter with his House colleagues after Monday morning’s session and then walked reporters through a timeline of events.
Cochrane worked as secretary to the House State Affairs Committee for one session in 2012. In 2013, she sent Bedke personal text messages that he initially wrote off as a wrong number. The contacts continued, Bedke said, and Cochrane apparently invented an affair with the speaker and mailed him small gifts.
Her affidavit also describes an incident at a State Affairs Committee hearing in 2012. Cochrane now lives in her native Colorado and works as a paralegal at a law firm outside of Denver. She said in her affidavit that former Idaho Falls Rep. Janice McGeachin witnessed the events she described. McGeachin, contacted by the Statesman, refuted that, saying she saw nothing like what Cochrane alleged, and that such behavior “would not have been tolerated by any Committee chair in the Idaho Legislature.” Reporters who attended the hearing also said it did not occur.
Cochrane’s contacts with Bedke were investigated by the Attorney General’s Office and the state police in May 2013, when Bedke brought the matter to their attention after receiving a letter from Cochrane at his home. Police investigated Cochrane for possible blackmail and extortion against the speaker, interviewing her twice. No further action came of it.
CLIMATE OF CONFLICT
The normally reserved speaker was visibly angry as he recounted the events Monday. He said lawmakers who were aware of the 2013 case at the time described Cochrane as his “stalker.” He said he chose not to take action against her after the investigation was dropped, hoping to move on.
But amid the climate of conflict in the Statehouse this year, he said he felt “duty-bound” to address the matter after the publication of Cochrane’s affidavit.
I’m used to having my name dragged through the mud.
Former legislative aide Lissa Cochrane
“I’m not a professional politician. I am a rancher with a good name,” he said. “If it were just me, that’d be one thing. But this (attack) comes after my wife, my family, my kids, the office of the speaker, and the institution of the House of Representatives.”
He added: “I don’t think this is right. I don’t think this is what we’re about here in Idaho. I think we’re much better than this, and I believe it is incumbent upon me and every member of the House to conduct the people’s business in a way that everyone can be proud.”
He would not comment on whether he thought the publication of Cochrane’s affidavit was politically motivated.
Cochrane, reached at her Colorado law office Monday, confirmed that she reached out to Scott, sending her an email through the Legislature’s website. She said she stood by the allegations she raised in her affidavit, which was notarized by a colleague at her firm.
“I’m the one who reached out to her because I thought it was just hypocrisy that she was being stripped of her assignments,” Cochrane said. “I told her I’d make a statement but I told her I would only do it in (an affidavit) because I wanted you guys to take it seriously.”
She said she did not know Scott prior to speaking to her in January. She said she prepared the affidavit but ultimately determined with Scott that “it wasn’t the best plan of action to have her receive it.”
“It was felt that I shouldn’t go through Rep. Scott,” she said.
Scott declined comment when contacted by The Spokesman-Review.
‘THIS IS OUT OF THE BLUE’
Cochrane said she was then contacted by a third party she did not previously know and would not identify who suggested sending the affidavit to “a wider audience.” The person offered some suggestions and Cochrane got in touch with one of the websites after doing some research.
“They didn’t really include me too much in the loop as far as whether they were researching or investigating,” Cochrane said. She said she told the reporter that “I would make the decision on whether they could publish it” and then received a link to the published story.
She said she spoke to Scott “on more than one occasion,” but not since January. “I felt sorry for her. And we had a common discussion.”
Cochrane said she’s been ridiculed and called delusional, adding: “I’m used to having my name dragged through the mud.” She repeated her claim that McGeachin could corroborate her account. When told that McGeachin did not confirm it, she said, “Oh, that’s funny.”
Bedke said it was premature for him to discuss whether he would take legal action against either the websites or his accuser. He said his priority now was “to finish the session, and I’m going to do that as best I can without all this distraction.”
“Everything that has been alleged is categorically false,” he said. “I’m flummoxed here. This is out of the blue.”
A story on the affidavit originally was posted by the North Idaho-based Redoubt News. The name is a reference to the “American Redoubt” movement by far-right conservatives and doomsday preppers who seek to relocate from urban to less populated areas of the Intermountain West, including North Idaho, ahead of a predicted societal collapse.
Note: This article has been updated to more specifically reflect former Rep. Janice McGeachin’s reaction to the affidavit.