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Activist whose group infiltrated McCaskill campaign will take stage after Josh Hawley

Missouri freshman senator questions Barr about Trump investigations, big tech, anti-trust concerns

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) questioned Trump's nominee for attorney general during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 15, 2019, opening by asking about the FBI's investigation into Trump.
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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) questioned Trump's nominee for attorney general during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 15, 2019, opening by asking about the FBI's investigation into Trump.

As soon as Sen. Josh Hawley exits the stage at a Friday event in Maryland, a conservative activist responsible for undercover videos of his Democratic opponent will appear on that same stage.

Hawley, a Missouri Republican, was listed as a participant for an hour-long panel about the tech industry’s alleged bias against conservatives as part of the American Conservative Union’s annual CPAC conference.

The schedule also listed Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, whose organization released hidden camera videos of then-Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign less than a month before the Missouri Democrat lost to Hawley in the 2018 election.

That schedule, which was posted online last week, was changed online Monday afternoon after The Kansas City Star posed questions to Hawley’s office and CPAC about O’Keefe’s participation.

“Sen. Hawley is confirmed to do a one on one discussion with Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal on big tech. The agenda is incorrect,” Hawley spokeswoman Kelli Ford said in a phone call.

Hawley is now listed as having a ten-minute one-on-one interview with Strassel on the tech industry.

Immediately after that interview, O’Keefe will appear on stage for a panel discussion on the tech industry led by Strassel. California-based attorney Harmeet Dhillon and Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, who heads the Department of Justice’s anti-trust division, will also be on the panel.

“That’s our fault,” said Ian Walters, the spokesman for CPAC. “There are other errors in the schedule… This is one of many changes. Things get changed up until the event. “

Walters then made a second phone call to say Hawley was always supposed to have a one-on-one interview with Strassel.

Marco Bruno, a spokesman for Project Veritas, said the group had no role in setting up the panel. He said he had no comment on the change to the schedule.

McCaskill’s campaign had called for Hawley, who was serving as state attorney general, to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Project Veritas under Missouri’s anti-fraud statutes.

Hawley’s office took no steps to launch an investigation and his campaign promoted the videos, which captured low-level McCaskill staffers making comments about the senator downplaying her support from Planned Parenthood and former President Barack Obama. It also portrayed McCaskill as concealing her stance on gun control.

“We know that a lot of people saw them,” Bruno said when asked about the role the videos had in determining the outcome of the race.

The videos were obtained by a Project Veritas staffer who posed as an intern. The McCaskill campaign said in an affidavit it filed with Hawley’s office that the fake intern had access to the campaign’s voter database during his time with the campaign.

“They never responded at all to that complaint and still to this day the attorney general’s office has not responded to that complaint,” said Chuck Hatfield, who served as an attorney for McCaskill’s campaign.

“Just to leave it hanging like that isn’t a good way to approach it.”

Hatfield sent a letter Monday to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who replaced Hawley, requesting to know the status of the October complaint. The letter says that Schmitt has no conflict of interest that would still require the appointment of a special prosecutor.

“Now that we have a new Attorney General, it is my hope this matter will be given the attention it deserves,” Hatfield said in the letter.

Schmitt’s office did not immediately comment on the status of the complaint.

Hatfield said he sees no ethical issue in Hawley participating in an event with O’Keefe because Hawley is no longer attorney general.

“But I think he should make clear whether he endorses the behavior that O’Keefe engages in,” Hatfield said, noting that O’Keefe was convicted of a misdemeanor in Louisiana in connection with one of his sting videos.

CPAC, which has been held annually since 1974, has been a launching ground for future Republican presidential candidates dating back to Ronald Reagan.

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.

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