The response by former Governor Bryant maintains that the communications requested are protected by executive privilege, but did provide many, including communications with his staff attorney.
Former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has filed a response to the motion to compel that was made by Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC), requesting that he produce communications pertaining to a suit filed by the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) that includes MCEC’s former head Nancy New.
While Bryant’s response to this recent request maintains that these documents are protected by executive privilege, he still provided much of what was asked for by the defendants.
It is worth noting that Bryant has not been charged with any crime in this matter.
According to the filing, Bryant maintains that he was not aware of the speaking deal made with NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre and MCEC/MSDH. His communications show that he believed the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds not to be in order to build the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) volleyball facility now in question.
In the documents, MDHS, which filed the action against several defendants including former MCEC President and Founder, Nancy New, made a request that others provide documents that could pertain to the mis-diverted TANF funds.
The suit points to many diversions of TANF funds, including the ones mentioned above.
The State Auditor issued a demand for repayment to Favre and he has since repaid the $1.1 million in promotional services, claiming he was not aware that the funds came from TANF. He and the Auditor’s office continue to disagree over the interest and fees associated with the payments.
Since that time, MCEC subpoenaed former Governor Bryant in July 2022, seeking documents related to the volleyball center. Bryant objected to the subpoena claiming that the “documents are privileged and outside the bounds of permissible discovery.”
MCEC has since filed this present motion which does not establish any particular need for the documents. Bryant’s response asks that the court recognize MCEC’s improper motive in this request and award “substantial sanctions, including attorney’s fees, to Governor Bryant.”
The response provided by Bryant contains communications that show where he told Favre that the funding for the USM volleyball facility must be approved by the State Auditor. Three days later he also asked that the staff attorney check with Nancy New on the details of the contract, at Favre’s request.
Those findings were later provided to Bryant by the staff attorney who said that New told them the program was a “health and fitness program. The contract is with [USM] to rent buildings to put on this program. Brett volunteers his time. Nancy is getting a one pager.” They added that there was not yet a response from DHS.
In the texts provided, Bryant responded, “If it [is] proper then we should move ahead since they are planning it to happen. Has Nancy heard any further from [the] Auditor since Friday?”
Bryant’s response also noted that while these texts are protected by attorney-client privilege most were provided regardless. His attorney’s hold firm that the former Governor was not aware of where the funding for the USM volleyball facility was coming from.
“Moreover, based on the content and tenor of Favre’s text message, it is also apparent that Governor Bryant did not know what had previously transpired between New, Davis, and Favre regarding the funding of the USM Volleyball Center. If, as MCEC and certain press members have insinuated, Governor Bryant was directing the funding for the project, why did Favre provide him a synopsis of the project’s funding history? And why did Favre provide details of the funding history to the governor? Regardless of the answer to these questions, the record is clear that USM and its attorneys, the IHL Board, and the state attorney general’s office all approved a $5 million payment of TANF funds from MCEC to construct the facility without Governor Bryant’s involvement.” – An excerpt from the response on page 32 of 70.
The correspondence provided by Bryant in the response show Favre continually pushing for his assistance in the project. Section 17 of the document outlines a text conversation in August of 2019 between Favre and the former Governor in which he admitted that he would need over $1 million for the volleyball project if the state did not assist in the funding.
Favre: Governor[,] the indoor volleyball facility could be completed any day now and I’m sure the university will be calling for the remaining 1,048,000. I can try to buy some time. You[’]r[e] our starting QB and we can only go as far as you take us.
Bryant: I got called into this game late. Headed to Taiwan today at 4:30. Let’s get a meeting with Director Freeze as soon as I return. Not sure who made the deal for a million dollars. Nancy needs to work with Bethany to arrange a meeting.
Favre: Not to put pressure on you but if anyone can make this work you can. Have a great trip and see you after.
Bryant: Nancy has already called and we will get that meeting set [thumbs up emoji]
In September, Bryant, former SAC Director of the FBI in Jackson Christopher Freeze, New and Favre met to discuss the project. After the meeting the following conversation ensued:
Favre: Thank you for having us. We obviously need your help big time and time is working against us. And we feel that your name is the perfect choice for this facility and we are not taking No for an answer! You are a Southern Miss Alumni, and folks need to know you are also a supporter of the University.
Bryant: We are going to get there. This was a great meeting. But we have to follow the law. I am to[o] old for Federal Prison. [smiley face, sunglasses emoji]
Days after that exchange, it appeared in texts with his staff attorney that Bryant was under the impression New had broken the law in her operation of MCEC. Further communication between Bryant and Favre show Bryant explaining to Favre that he must not override the law which would potentially be a criminal offense.
Bryant: “Neither one of us want an investigation by the Auditor. I promise you, there is nothing more I can do except follow the law…”
You can read Bryant’s full response below: