Hartmann: The Disgraceful Duplicity of Eric Schmitt

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. RFT FILE PHOTO
If Eric Schmitt’s title read “Missouri Republican Party General Counsel,” one could make the case that he’s doing a reasonably good job.

It doesn’t. And he isn’t.

Schmitt has violated his oath of office as Missouri attorney general, the position to which he was appointed in 2019 by Governor Mike Parson and elected November 3. Schmitt swore to serve the interests of all the people of the state — not just the ones of his own party — but he has dropped all pretense of doing so.

Schmitt has played a leading role nationally in the seditious attempt by Republican attorneys general to overturn American democracy at the behest of Donald Trump. Unlike sixteen other states, Missouri did not merely join in the charade. Its attorney general’s office wrote the amicus curiae brief, both in the failed Texas effort to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to make Trump dictator and a previous one from Pennsylvania.

Schmitt has become reduced to a groveling manservant to Trump. Exhibit A is this December 9 tweet:

“Missouri is in the fight,” Schmitt proclaimed to please the boss and the base.

Contemptuous of the fact that he was elected to serve an entire state and not just the portion that voted for him, Schmitt betrayed his office as few have done before him by forcing the state to participate in Trump’s assault on the electoral process.

Schmitt’s tweet blasted in billboard-sized letters the letterhead of indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — a leader of the Trump pack — a fitting testament to just how dirty this mission is. Paxton’s best excuse is that he desperately needs a pardon from Trump.

Schmitt has no such excuse. The only thing he has to gain personally from his waste of Missourians’ tax dollars is political gain, not avoidance of jail time. His payoff seems to be frontrunner status in the 2024 Republican gubernatorial sweepstakes.

All of this has come at Missouri taxpayer’s expense through use of Schmitt’s office for an obviously partisan mission. Asked about that, Marianna Deal, Schmitt’s communications director, said “the brief was written by salaried employees, so there are no specific costs to the office involved."

That might make perfect sense were one to assume that the salaried employees of the office have lots of spare time on their hands. But suppose the absurd Texas lawsuit had succeeded. It’s hard to envision Schmitt having said, “Oh don’t give us any credit. We just threw together the amicus brief. It took no time at all.”

To the contrary, the amicus brief was a serious legal project for an unserious purpose. In a less partisan time, state legislators wrestling with Missouri’s budget crisis might consider trimming some staff in Schmitt’s office. They won’t.

Were this his first rodeo, Schmitt might be forgiven for getting caught up in the tidal wave of Trump’s rage over losing to President-elect Joe Biden. But Schmitt’s use of his office for craven political purposes has followed a tiresome pattern. It is the defining characteristic of his tenure.

In August 2019, Schmitt signed on to a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that federal law does not protect lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals from workplace discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights law.

Like the Texas and Pennsylvania cases, it ended up in the loss column legally but not politically in culturally repressed Missouri. Only thirteen of the nation’s Republican attorneys general (roughly half) shamed themselves by abusing their power to presume to speak for all citizens on that one.

As the Kansas City Star reported, “The brief, signed by Schmitt, contends federal law prohibits only sex discrimination and the plain meaning of ‘sex’ is biological status as male or female, not sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Chris Nuelle, Schmitt’s spokesman, said the attorney general’s signature on the brief ‘should not be interpreted as speaking to the merits of the issue, but rather the interpretation of the law that is written.’”

The defensiveness of that statement is evidenced by its omission from the news section of Schmitt’s official website which had announced twelve other news items that month. Nuelle had directed us to the website for examples of non-partisan efforts by the attorney general, of which there are many.

But while no one accuses Schmitt of failing to fulfill the basic duties of operating the office, it’s increasingly clear that his priorities are political. And it’s not as if he has avoided basking in the spotlight they have provided.

Until recently the most embarrassing example — of this or any era — was Schmitt’s pathetic attempt to bring the People’s Republic of China to its knees over the spread of COVID-19 to Missouri. As of press time, Chinese President Xi Jinping has not been served for Schmitt’s lawsuit, apparently filed with little self-awareness.

Schmitt also should have been embarrassed (but was not) by his ludicrous public accusation that State Auditor Nicole Galloway had committed a felony in how she released transcripts from an audit of Senator Josh Hawley’s flyover days as attorney general. Somehow that slander was never followed by charges against Galloway, who happened to be running against Parson.

At least that cheap shot was within the realm of partisan politics-as-usual. Ditto for Schmitt’s efforts to try to shut down Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, another politically successful legal failure.

But in July, Schmitt took the abuse of his office to a new level. He stunned the legal world by interfering with Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s weapons-charge prosecution of St. Louis’ infamous gun-toting preppies, the noxious Mark and Patricia McCloskey. Given that Schmitt’s office would be charged with defending an appeal of any conviction of the McCloskey’s, it was wildly inappropriate for Schmitt to file a brief as a de facto part of their defense team.

Again, it represented bad law but good politics. The Republican Party has truly lost its soul under Trump’s thumb, especially in deep-red states like Missouri, where Dear Leader won again by more than 15 percentage points.

The nation can only hope that by 2024, Trump will be relegated mostly to its rearview mirror so Schmitt and other Republicans might return to at least some semblance of normalcy in performing their government jobs. If that’s the case, Schmitt would do well to heed some righteous words on the need to keep the focus at home:

“Some folks will highlight that our time seems increasingly divisive, and in some ways in Washington, D.C., it is. But strong communities aren’t built by faceless folks from far-away places – they’re built by real people living in them.”

That’s what Eric Schmitt told the graduates of the UMKC Law School in a 2019 commencement speech. Apparently, he doesn’t believe it.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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