JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Records released Friday by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley show employees of his office frequently used private email for official business and were given directions from the political consultants who led Hawley’s successful campaign for the U.S Senate.
In a Jan. 19, 2017, email chain, comprised of private email addresses that sought to gather consultants and office staff on a call, political consultant Timmy Teepell said he was excited “about the opportunities we have to make a difference this year,” The Kansas City Star reported .
“It seems to me that going forward we should start compiling a punch list of what we need to do to roll out each of our agenda items this year, and we should put together a weekly conference call for all of us to set aside time each week to focus attention on these projects,” Teepell wrote.
An attorney for Hawley said the release of 85 pages of records was in response to an investigation into whether Hawley abused state resources. Attorney John Sauer, first assistant and solicitor general for Hawley, said in a letter to Secretary of State John Ashcroft that the records show Hawley didn’t use any taxpayer money for political campaigns or outside consultants. He wrote that Ashcroft should “dismiss the complaint as frivolous.”
Sauer’s letter does not explain why Hawley’s staff was using private emails, which could circumvent open records laws the attorney general is required to enforce.
The Star reported in October that public records showed no evidence of direct public expenses going to Teepell and consultant Gail Gitcho. However, the attorney general’s office code of conduct manual defines state resources as, in part, “an employee’s position, time, benefits, state supplied materials, equipment and vehicles.”
Some of the meetings with political consultants occurred during normal business hours on weekdays.
Hawley spokeswoman Mary Compton told The Star that using the private emails did not compromise the office’s transparency.
“Personal emails are subject to the same retention and disclosure requirements as those on public accounts,” Compton said in an email. “All AGO Staff are trained and instructed to comply with the retention and disclosure requirements.”
Ashcroft’s office began investigating Hawley after the liberal American Democracy Legal Fund filed a complaint shortly before the 2018 election that accused Hawley’s office of using public funds to support his campaign against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The records released Friday included several email strings, conference call instructions and office calendars that describe meetings between political operatives and attorney general staff. Sauer’s letter indicated that he turned over a personnel file and another document that were protected from disclosure by state and federal law.