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Ex-Gov. Phil Bryant Now Targeting Reporter in Defamation Lawsuit Over Welfare Scandal Reporting

A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter could become the latest defendant in former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s ongoing lawsuit against online news publication Mississippi Today.

The Republican politician, who led the state from 2012 to 2020, sued the publication last year over since-retracted remarks its CEO, Mary Margaret White, made onstage at a journalism forum in which she claimed he “embezzled” welfare funds. The lawsuit also cited promotional materials that White and Mississippi Today Editor-in-Chief Adam Ganucheau wrote to promote the publication’s reporting on Mississippi’s $77-million welfare scandal that focused heavily on Bryant.

Now, the former governor’s legal team is seeking to add reporter Anna Wolfe, whose “The Backchannel” series earned the publication a coveted local-reporting Pulitzer Prize last May, as a defendant. The allegations targeted two stories she reported late last December—months after the governor filed his original defamation lawsuit against the newsprofit news outlet and its umbrella organization Deep South Today and its board members.

Read Former Gov. Phil Bryant’s Jan. 3, 2024, filing to add reporter Anna Wolfe as a defendant in his defamation lawsuit.

Wolfe reported on Dec. 19, 2023, that retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and his business partner, Jake VanLandingham, once sought Bryant’s help getting a $25,000 investment to help Prevacus—a pharmaceutical company promising to produce concussion drugs. Wolfe’s report was based on allegations in a court filing by the former nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center nonprofit director Nancy New, who has pleaded guilty to state and federal crimes in the welfare case. The story said VanLandingham had gotten suckered into a gold-bar scam in Ghana, Africa, and that he was trying to obtain the money for a “geological analysis” an investor said he needed in order to secure a $1-million investment for Prevacus out of Ghana. VanLandingham, who founded Prevacus, had already brought Favre on as a business partner.

“VanLandingham tried to get Favre to secure $25,000 through an investment in Prevacus from one of his fellow professional athletes, but they wouldn’t bite,” Wolfe’s report stated. “Then Favre suggested they ask the then-Mississippi governor for help and offer him stock in the company. Bryant bit.”

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