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Missouri Attorney General’s Office slams claims on Hawley

December 11, 2018
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FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, Sen.- elect Josh Hawley makes his victory speech while his wife Erin watches in Springfield, Mo. Missouri's Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, asked the Democratic auditor for help investigating Sen.-elect Hawley over allegations that he misused public resources to boost his Senate bid. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel File)
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FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, Sen.- elect Josh Hawley makes his victory speech while his wife Erin watches in Springfield, Mo. Missouri's Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, asked the Democratic auditor for help investigating Sen.-elect Hawley over allegations that he misused public resources to boost his Senate bid. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel File)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Attorney General’s Office is pushing back against allegations that Josh Hawley misused public resources to boost his successful U.S. Senate campaign as the secretary of state investigates him.

First Assistant and Solicitor General John Sauer in a Monday letter called the complaint against the outgoing attorney general “a frivolous act of political harassment.”

At issue are allegations by the American Democracy Legal Fund. In a November complaint, group President Brad Woodhouse wrote that it appears Hawley misused state resources “by instructing political consultants to direct state, taxpayer-paid staff to undertake tasks that would raise Hawley’s profile in his bid to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate.” Hawley, a Republican, unseated Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November.

Woodhouse’s complaint followed reporting by The Kansas City Star, which obtained records that show out-of-state political consultants that went on to work for Hawley’s Senate campaign also advised his staff in the Attorney General’s Office. The records show campaign consultants gave direct guidance and tasks to Hawley’s state staff.

Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft last week agreed to investigate Hawley in response to the complaint.

But Sauer wrote in a letter to Ashcroft’s office that Hawley’s Senate campaign wasn’t formed until after the consultants’ work. He called it “absurd” to argue that good work by public employees is illegal because it might indirectly benefit a future electoral campaign.

Ashcroft also in a Monday letter asked that Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway check into the claims against Hawley.

Ashcroft wrote that while his office has no subpoena power to investigate the allegations against Hawley, Galloway’s office does. He also asked that her office share relevant information from the audit and allow his staff to at least sit in on any possible interviews with attorney general employees.

“We do not have the same tools that the Auditor’s Office has to conduct an investigation,” Ashcroft wrote.

A spokeswoman for Galloway said she’s reviewing Ashcroft’s letter.

Ashcroft’s deputy general counsel, Khristine Heisinger, last week requested that the Attorney General’s Office provide its responses to The Kansas City Star’s open-records requests, and also asked the newspaper for its records. The Star reports that the office declined to provide the responses.

The newspaper’s attorney, Bernard Rhodes, wrote in a letter to Ashcroft’s office that “the press must maintain its independence” and does so by “not becoming deputized as the governor’s investigator.”

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This story has been corrected to show that Hawley is the outgoing attorney general, not former.

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