Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Josh Hawley declined on Saturday to clarify why his government staff used their personal email addresses to organize meetings with campaign consultants in the attorney general’s office, saying only that members of his team “always comply with every aspect of Missouri law, and do so to the fullest.”
The Star reported Wednesday that within weeks of Hawley’s swearing in as attorney general in 2017, the political team that would go on to run his U.S. Senate campaign had stepped in to help direct his official office and raise his national profile.
The out-of-state consultants gave direct guidance and tasks to Hawley’s taxpayer-funded staff, and led meetings with official staff during work hours in the state Supreme Court building in Jefferson City, where the attorney general’s office is located.
Hawley is facing U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, in one of the most hotly contested senate races in the nation. McCaskill has seized on the story in the campaign’s waning days, arguing that allowing consultants to help run his official office is “inappropriate and potentially illegal.”
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The attorney general’s office initially declined to comment on the story. It eventually released a statement insisting that “no taxpayer resources were expended for campaign purposes” and “no government employee participated in political activity.”
But instead of using their government-issued email to help organize and discuss the consultant meetings, which would automatically be subject to the state’s open records laws, Hawley staff used their personal email addresses.
Hawley’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the use of private email in the attorney general’s office on Friday. The Star also attempted to get a comment from Hawley at an event in Blue Springs on Friday, but his campaign did not make him available for questions.
On Saturday, Hawley wouldn’t directly address the use of private emails when asked about it during a campaign event in Columbia. Instead, he called any suggestion that paid political consultants were running his office “absurd.”
“Let me just say for the record for the thousandth time that no one ran the attorney general’s office but me,” he said. “That the decisions made in that office were made by me.”
He later added: “That is an absurdly false story… I welcome the scrutiny.”
Hawley was adamant that the arrangement did not violate any laws, “and any suggestion otherwise is totally false.”
Saturday afternoon, after Hawley’s Columbia event, the attorney general’s office released a statement to The Star saying “our office policy is to retain all records required by law regardless of the medium of the communication.”
The Star’s reporting was based on emails, text messages and other records obtained over the last few weeks. The Hawley campaign has not asked for any corrections or retractions, and has not disputed any facts detailed in the story.
At a later event in Jefferson County, Hawley was asked specifically whether he denies that The Star has emails showing communication between his official government staff and his political consultants.
Hawley did not directly answer that question and instead repeated his line that no one ran the attorney general’s office but him, according to audio recorded by St. Louis Public Radio.
Mike Fannin, editor and vice president of The Kansas City Star, said Saturday that Hawley “is not acknowledging the facts in this matter and his own staff knows it.”
“We have the story documented,” Fannin said. “Those documents spell out clearly what happened: That Hawley turned over management of his office to consultants almost immediately after being elected and contrary to what he told the public. This is an easy story to stand by. The sourcing and reporting are unimpeachable.”
Hawley had been scheduled to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, but host Chuck Todd said early in the broadcast that Hawley’s campaign canceled the appearance. Hawley’s campaign pointed to his heavy campaign schedule as the reason, Todd said.
But the host also noted that polls have shown the race tightening this past week. The candidates are tied at 46 percent, according to RealClearPolitics, a website that aggregates polling data.
Hawley rallied his supporters in Columbia just three days before voters got to the polls on Tuesday. In addition to criticizing McCaskill and her record, he also slammed a series of anonymous mailers circulating the state that question his conservative bona fides and imply voters should support a third party candidate.
The mailers fail to identify who paid for them, which is required by law. But they appear to be connected to a group called Coalition for a Safe Secure America, which has run Facebook ads against Hawley and other anonymous mailers attacking GOP senate candidates in Montana and Indiana.
On Thursday, Missouri GOP officials publicly called for the FBI to investigate the mailers, saying they appear to be tied to groups affiliated with Democrats. Hawley echoed that call on Saturday morning.
“We’ve got these illegal mailers out there that I hope the FBI will investigate,” he said. “That’s just the latest dirty trick.”