Government & Politics

Ashcroft ends investigation of Josh Hawley, says he didn’t violate election law

Josh Hawley used state-owned vehicle to travel to events during Senate campaign

A Missouri attorney general’s office employee occasionally drove Josh Hawley to campaign-related events in a state-owned car, an arrangement that raises questions about Hawley’s use of taxpayer-funded resources.
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A Missouri attorney general’s office employee occasionally drove Josh Hawley to campaign-related events in a state-owned car, an arrangement that raises questions about Hawley’s use of taxpayer-funded resources.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on Thursday ended his investigation into whether U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley illegally used public resources for his campaign, announcing his office did not find evidence to back up allegations Hawley or the attorney general’s office violated election law.

“Because the documents my office reviewed and the interviews conducted do not show that there is reasonable and trustworthy information that an offense has been committed,” Ashcroft, a Republican, wrote, “a probable cause statement will not be forwarded to the local prosecutor and this investigation is closed.”

Ashcroft’s office emphasized to The Star that its investigation was solely focused on possible violations of election law, where the secretary of state has jurisdiction.

Hawley told The Star that Ashcroft’s findings were a “complete and total vindication.”

The investigation was sparked by an October report in The Kansas City Star that revealed out-of-state political consultants gave direct guidance and tasks to taxpayer-funded staff in the attorney general’s office.

A liberal nonprofit, the American Democracy Legal Fund, filed a complaint based on The Star’s reporting.

The consultants, who would go on to lead Hawley’s 2018 Senate campaign, convened meetings with staff during business hours in the state Supreme Court building in Jefferson City, where the attorney general’s office is located.

Earlier this week, The Star reported Hawley also occasionally used a state-owned car, driven by a state employee, to travel to political events. The secretary of state did not mention the cars in the report.

Ashcroft’s seven-page report notes that his office contacted 11 individuals, with only one declining to be interviewed. He determined that the consultants’ role was to “provide guidance to senior staff” on office priorities, and also “how to run a government entity” and communicate with the media.

This was done, according to Ashcroft’s report, because the majority of Hawley’s staff had no government experience.

The consultant-led strategy sessions in the attorney general’s office, which began in January 2017, raised legal and ethical concerns at the time among some of Hawley’s employees, who worried about mixing politics with public business. The situation also left them confused about the chain of command.

The report said said Hawley’s former staff said they “did not feel that they had to follow the advice” of of the consultants, and that Hawley’s eventual run for U.S. Senate “was never brought up during any of the meetings or conference calls.”

Hawley’s senior staff were all using their private email addresses to communicate with the campaign consultants, not government-issued email that would be subject to the state’s Sunshine Law.

The consultants said this was because these were the email addresses they had for the staff.

The outside advisers were used to “advance Attorney General Hawley’s priories as Attorney General,” Ashcroft concluded. “There is nothing showing that the consultants were used to promote him as a candidate.”

Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway is also investigating the allegations against Hawley as part of a routine audit of his former office. Ashcroft had requested Galloway’s assistance on the investigation because her office has subpoena powers.

Ashcroft wrote that Galloway’s subpoena powers “were not needed” because the attorney general’s office provided all requested documents.

Galloway’s spokeswoman, Steph Deidrick, said the auditor’s office committed to providing information to the secretary of state throughout the course of its ongoing audit.

“This office,” Deidrick said, “did not actively participate in their investigation.”

The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this story.

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Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A two-time National Headliner Award winner, he’s been repeatedly named one of the “best state political reporters” in America by the Washington Post.