Missouri GOP should butt out and stop playing politics with Hawley investigation

Political consultants’ role in Hawley’s AG office raise concerns

Consultants worked to raise Josh Hawley's national profile and helped direct the state office's work, records show.
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Consultants worked to raise Josh Hawley's national profile and helped direct the state office's work, records show.

The Missouri Republican Party’s attempt to prevent attorney Khristine Heisinger from investigating allegations that outgoing state Attorney General Josh Hawley illegally used public resources to support his U.S. Senate campaign is just plain silly.

Heisinger, who is deputy general counsel for Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, was tapped to lead the formal investigation into potential illegal use of public funds for personal or political purposes inside Hawley’s office. But in a desperate effort to derail the inquiry, the Missouri GOP is demanding that she recuse herself.

Never mind that Heisinger actually works for a Republican — or that Ashcroft and Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, are coordinating efforts on the investigation, giving this process bipartisan credibility.

Both Hawley and Ashcroft are Republicans, but the state party seems to be placing a priority on protecting Missouri’s soon-to-be U.S. senator. Hawley, who has denied any wrongdoing, defeated Sen. Claire McCaskill in last month’s election.

GOP officials claim Heisinger is compromised because she has contributed at least $24,000 to Democratic candidates since 2006. All of the donations were made before she went to work for Ashcroft.

Chris Nuelle, spokesman for the Missouri GOP, told The Star that Heisinger’s contributions are a conflict of interest. But Heisinger was hired by secretary of state’s office to do a job, and her boss has high praise for her work.

“She is an excellent attorney who takes her responsibility to serve the people of Missouri in a nonpartisan manner very seriously,” Ashcroft told The Star this week.

The investigation was launched in response to a complaint filed by The American Democracy Legal Fund, a liberal group that accused Hawley of violating a prohibition on using public funds for political campaigns. The complaint cited reporting by The Star that raised serious questions about whether political consultants working on Hawley’s behalf gave guidance and tasks to his taxpayer-funded staff.

To his credit, Ashcroft has put politics aside and set about the important work of conducting a fair and thorough investigation. He stands by the selection of Heisinger and his decision to solicit help from Galloway, whose office has subpoena power.

The GOP’s maneuvering is a disservice to all Missourians. We should be able to trust Ashcroft, Heisinger and Galloway to do their jobs, and they should be allowed to proceed without outside interference or partisan pressure.

Ashcroft and Galloway have taken a professional approach to the investigation. Meanwhile, Missouri GOP officials are the only ones playing politics.