Did State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) intentionally sideswipe a cameraman working with the American Phoenix Foundation?

In what appears to be the first video released by the American Phoenix Foundation in the follow up to their project covertly filming and confronting Texas state legislators during the 84th legislative session, a short snippet released as a GIF file shows Cook aggressively stepping into a cameraman’s path as he walks through the capitol.

American Phoenix Foundation head Joe Basel posted the clip to his Twitter account Monday:

When confronted about the video, Cook’s Chief of Staff Toni Barcellona refused the opportunity to clarify Cook’s actions.

The American Phoenix Foundation has previously revealed an investigative reporting project filming Texas legislators, lobbyists, and staff in the Capitol and in bars around Austin. The Foundation has apparently collected more than 800 hours of video, but until Monday had not released any of the tapes publicly. Videos reportedly show legislators in a number of compromising situations.

The revelation of the project has sent Austin politicos into a tizzy attempting to suppress the tapes and discredit the filmmakers.

Cook himself lead a hijacking of Gov. Greg Abbott’s major ethics reform package, Senate Bill 19, sprinkling it with unconstitutional amendments that purported to empower legislators to sue the Phoenix Foundation to prevent the release of the tapes. The unconstitutional retroactive provisions would have banned the release of videos taken in the Capitol since 1985, the year of Basel’s birth.

The clip of Cook sideswiping the Phoenix Foundation cameraman raises new questions about a measure Cook carried during the legislative session and inserted into SB 19 that would have required organizations, businesses, and churches that speak out about elections and issues of public policy to disclose all of their sources of income. Critics have alleged that the lists could be used to intimidate members and donors to the groups.

Cook has denied the reports would be used improperly but, when questioned, has failed to explain how the information would legitimately be used by state officials.

Cook has a record in the past of harassing business owners in Corsicana who have supported his political opponents.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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