Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has been under investigation by the Missouri Secretary of State for allegations that he illegally used taxpayer resources while he was state attorney general to support his Senate campaign. The allegations followed reports that he had farmed out his office to private political consultants to run while he prepared to run for higher office, and potentially mingled staff between both the attorney general’s office and his campaign office.
But it gets worse. Hawley was asked by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) to provide emails between his staff and the consultants, and his office responded that there were none. But on Friday, the Kansas City Star reported that there were, in fact, emails — they just communicated using private accounts and failed to disclose them, a possible violation of Missouri’s sunshine laws:
The decision by Hawley’s AG office to use private email rather than government accounts was first uncovered by The Star, which reported in October that his staff was using the private accounts to communicate with his out-of-state consultants. The Star’s investigation found that Hawley’s campaign consultants Timmy Teepell and Gail Gitcho gave direct guidance and tasks to his taxpayer-funded staff and led meetings during work hours in the state Supreme Court building, where the attorney general’s official office is located.
After that reporting, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, with the help of State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, launched an investigation to determine whether Hawley illegally used state resources in the attorney general’s office to support his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate.
It was in response to Ashcroft’s investigation that the attorney general’s office turned over 85 pages of records shortly before Christmas — documents that confirmed The Star’s reporting.
The emails that Hawley’s office failed to turn over include directions to his taxpayer-funded staff from Teepell from his email account with OnMessage Inc., the D.C. consulting firm that worked with Hawley for both of his campaigns.
Experts suggest that it is not definitive that Hawley’s office violated sunshine laws, but that if they knowingly lied, that would be a violation. “If they tell you right out of the box that we don’t have anything, I view that as a violation of law if that turns out not to be true,” said Mark Johnson, a First Amendment lawyer in Kansas City. “The thing that it didn’t say is whether they found the stuff by looking further and at the time they told you they didn’t have anything they honestly didn’t believe it. That would have to be something that would have to be established.”
Regardless, all of this looks very bad for Hawley, who during his campaign pledged he would never leverage “one office to get to another.” He also was highly critical of Hillary Clinton’s private email server during his 2016 run for attorney general, tweeting, “Sec. Clinton’s outrageous conduct & lack of prosecution shows we need an AG who knows how to win for the rule of law.”
Hawley needs to be held accountable if he has violated state laws — and the public deserves answers.