The nation's Republican attorneys general were far more involved than previously known in using their offices -- and state employees -- for undisclosed partisan purposes over a period of several months in 2020 and this year.
A trove of emails uncovered by a public-records search in Missouri shows that the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) staged secret events attended not only by AG's but by their staffs. It also uncovered a stunning array of political activities connected directly (at least in some cases) to official email accounts of the top state law-enforcement officials.
RAGA has already been ensnared in scandal with the revelation of a January 5 robocall urging people to attend the Capitol rally that resulted in the violent insurrection the next day. That call by the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF) -- a RAGA subsidiary -- prompted the January 11 resignation of Adam Piper, RAGA's executive director.
But RAGA also used RLDF for a wide range of other secret political activities that were uncovered by the Sunshine Law request to the office of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Included in the 90 pages of documents obtained by the search were emails -- to Schmitt's state office -- from Piper and Peter Bisbee, RLDF executive director and RAGA policy director.
The emails uncovered numerous activities not publicly known. A report compiled by Elad Gross, a St. Louis attorney, found the following:
A secret "War Games" event was held in late September to plan contingencies for a potential Trump loss on November 3. Emails addressed to "Generals" by Piper on September 24 and 25 indicate it was attended by at least 44 senior attorneys general staff members (32 in person and 12 virtually). "It was a fast paced, productive series of war games, which hopefully will not have to be utilized in November," Piper wrote.
RLDF held at least 30 meetings for state attorney general senior staff from July 2020 to mid-January 2021, including one on January 5 during business hours.
RAGA sent emails addressed to "Generals" with descriptions of independent expenditures the group was making in attorney general races. In a September 19 email -- sent in Schmitt's (and probably others) to an official state email account, Piper said, "We had one of our best deposit weeks in RAGA history and are in a position to shatter RAGAs previous Q3 and September fundraising records. We need your help with call sheets/renewals/prospects and helping ensure we have the resources to keep and expand our majority in November."
Nineteen corporations and organizations that paid for special access to GOP attorneys general and their staffs held policy sessions, including one with Schmitt, RAGA's vice president, called "The Business of Making Friends."
RLDF, a 501c-4 political dark money group, maintained regular contact with attorneys general staffers, including five meetings in December and the January 5 meeting.
Gross, a former Democratic primary candidate for attorney general in Missouri, told Raw Story he embarked on the research because of suspicions about RAGA's involvement in politicizing its members' activities. But because he was asking for information from an official state account, he wasn't expecting much.
"I could not believe what we found," Gross said. "Most states, if not all, have laws prohibiting the use of state employees for political purposes. It was incredible to see the degree to which they've been involved with RAGA and its subsidiary.
"We found that a political dark money organization was coordinating with state officials and their staffs all across the country for many months prior to the January 6 "Stop the Steal" event," Gross said. "And we now know that in September they got together to prepare for steps they would take including plans around "election integrity. They continued to meet after the election right up through January 5."
Even beyond RAGA's untoward involvement around election issues, the emails documented a pattern of direct corporate influence with the states' top law-enforcement officials, Gross said.
"Probably the most amazing thing to me is how they were selling access to large campaign donors, giving $50,000 in many cases," Gross said. "Those donations were getting them official access, not only to AGs but to their senior staffs."
Gross' research in Missouri corroborated other information from around the nation. While Schmitt and all other Republican attorneys general maintain they had no knowledge of RAGA or RLDF involvement in the robocall urging Trump supporters to come to the Capitol, the emails make it impossible for them to argue they weren't aware of the groups' political connections to their offices.
Maybe not impossible. In response to inquiries by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a Schmitt spokesman claimed RLDF is a "policy organization and as you can expect, we collaborate with other Republican attorneys general offices on matters of policy, sign on opportunities, and potential lawsuits, just as we do with broader organizations like the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG)."
But the NAAG is an apolitical 501C-3 organization, not a political 501C-4 like RLDF, which means it cannot accept and pass along dark-money donations as RLDF does.
RAGA's connection to Republican politics -- and Trump in particular -- is hardly anecdotal. In addition to the infamous robocall, Piper was outed by The American Prospect for his personal role January 5:
"According to a Trump administration appointee, the executive director of RAGA, Adam Piper, was among those who met with Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and top Trump officials the night before the "Stop the Steal" rally. Piper was forced to quit over the organization's association with the riot."
Similarly, there was this from SourceWatch, quite similar to what Gross found:
"Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office writes in an email obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy that it will "not be participating in any RLDF activities until further notice," and any participation in RAGA will be "subject to the approval of Attorney General Wasden." The email sent shortly after the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol of which the Rule of Law Defense Fund and Republican Attorneys General Association was tied to invites the Idaho AG to a "senior staff call."
Wasden was not alone in trying to put some distance between RAGA and himself.
"Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody had touted in her online biography her role on the board of directors to a conservative group that has been criticized for its role in the insurrection in Washington last week, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times. By Monday morning, Moody removed the line on her bio on the official state website for the Florida Attorney General that detailed her role as "recognized as a national leader" among Republicans with The Rule of Law Defense Fund."