We've got the sequel, Missouri!
The Senate Republicans had barely finished tearing the U.S. Constitution into little pieces with its trial hoax. Moscow Mitch McConnell had just delivered the good news to Donald Trump's witches that they were free to come out of hiding from Sean Hannity's man cave and would no longer be hunted.
Trump himself was fresh off delivering his illustrious "I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT!" speech (caps required by executive order). Many people had just started saying it was much better than the Gettysburg address.
All these things had just happened in real time, but our Missouri Republican politicians didn't miss a beat in carrying on the spirit of Trumpism with our localized version of all that drama. Working off the script provided by State Auditor Nicole Galloway's scathing audit of Sen. Josh Hawley's previous stint as Missouri's drive-by state attorney general, these Republicans did Dear Leader proud with their outrage over actual facts.
Galloway, acting upon a 2018 referral from none other than Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, last week released an audit report finding serious fault — but no criminality — with Hawley's misuse of his office for political purposes. Ashcroft did, of course, come to his own finding of "nothing to see here" with respect to the conduct of Hawley and his office.
Notwithstanding that stunning development, Galloway continued to go forth with a standard audit of Hawley and his office after Hawley left for the Senate. With no disrespect to Galloway, in ordinary times, the apparent misconduct she came across would have come and gone as a "sun rises in the east" passing news story.
To be clear, Galloway's audit uncovered damning stuff. There's the ordinary misuse-of-state-vehicle sort of thing, but Hawley appears to have done far worse in the misuse of state resources by importing out-of-state political consultants to help run the attorney general's office and, more importantly, raise his national profile for a U.S. Senate race.
That assertion was consistent with what we already knew: that Hawley was preparing his Senate campaign before his parking spot was assigned in the state capitol.
The Kansas City Star reported: "Whether Hawley or his staff broke the law is unclear, the report concludes, because they regularly conducted state business off government servers through use of private email and text messaging." So there was that.
But would anyone who even casually follows state government not have expected Hawley to have used the office for political purposes? In his warped worldview, the A.G.'s office was his campaign office. He is who he is.
As the RFT posited last week in a scholarly legal blog post, "being a hypocrite and a narcissistic weasel is not against the law." So the audit, while interesting enough, has no real consequence to Hawley, who now regards the Beltway as home and Missouri as the tiny farmhouse in which he grew up as a wealthy banker's son.
Were we not living on Planet Trump, that would be the end of the story. Instead, to the political good fortune of Galloway, Republicans have inexplicably decided to go full Jim Jordan by screaming at the top of the lungs that Hawley has been victimized like some immigrant child placed in a cage. (That's actually not the specific example they used.)
For example, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, heretofore known as a reasonable enough albeit too conservative fellow from our town, has decided that the real culprit is Galloway. Why, yes, it was Galloway who broke the law by releasing the transcripts of depositions with former staff, emails, financial records and other documents.
Said Schmitt, in his finest legalese: "As the Chief Legal Officer for the state of Missouri, the Attorney General's Office has repeatedly expressed and continues to express serious concerns with the political nature of this audit and the unprecedented inclusion of transcripts, likely in violation of Missouri Statute 29.200.17, which states in relevant part that 'audit work papers and related supportive materials shall be kept confidential.'"
Galloway responded that it was Schmitt who failed to cooperate with her office and it was he who was politicizing the whole thing. The traditional he-said-she-said thing ensued.
But if you'd like some back-at-you legalese, Elad Gross, Schmitt's likely Democratic opponent for attorney general — and a former assistant attorney general under Chris Koster — has already issued a point-by-point refutation of Schmitt's position, including quite a few parts of RsMO 29.200.17 that the attorney general seems to have overlooked. You can access Gross' analysis through his Medium profile.
More easily digested by us lay people, Gross says Schmitt is not only wrong but the one who ought to be under the microscope:
"The Attorney General clearly attempted to interfere with an audit requested by the Secretary of State and legally conducted by the Auditor," Gross said in a public statement. "His attempt to obstruct a corruption investigation — especially considering the Attorney General's role previously as counsel for the Auditor and as the target of the audit — should be investigated by the Legislature."
Good luck with that. Even though Gross — who doesn't get nearly the coverage he deserves — is right, the Republicans won't be investigating Eric Schmitt anytime soon. Most likely they'll be smart enough not to do anything more than growl at Galloway who, by the way, is technically supposed to be represented by Schmitt owing to their respective offices.
But who needs investigations when we've got the essential message from Schmitt to work with: "Don't read the transcripts!"
Now, that's something we can relate to, something that makes us feel we're still part of that whole impeachment cover-up non-trial. Who doesn't like irony?
Speaking of that, we must celebrate that we have Hawley in this story. Just to keep the sequel theme, in a recent press statement, Hawley described the audit detailing his obvious abuses as "total exoneration." Sound familiar? Along with this stunning Trumpspeak for "you didn't catch me," Hawley of course followed the master's plan by unleashing a tweetstorm.
Back on January 14, Hawley launched a torrent of preemptive attacks on Galloway, with the comfort of knowing she was not in a position to defend an audit she hadn't yet published. He railed about her nefarious connections to Claire McCaskill and the former senator's campaign manager — how dare a politician have dealings with someone of their party? — and he called for investigations of the audit and all that.
But that wasn't the real Tweet Hawley we've come to know and love. No, for that, you've got to go back to what Hawley was tweeting away in December 2018, right around the time Ashcroft had turned to Galloway for assistance. Here's his tweet from December 7:
"This complaint about my work as AG by Hillary Clinton henchman David Brock is totally absurd. This is the SEVENTH legal complaint Democrats have launched against me in last 18 months. All frivolous. All political. Not one has succeeded. Election is over and Dems lost. Get over it."
Please read those last three words from 2018 again. "Get over it."
Get over it? If Josh Hawley wasn't pals with Trump Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, he could sue him for plagiarism. Take a bow, Missouri. Impeachment may be over, but we're still in the game.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).