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Missouri's Hawley faces awkward questions about his political operation

When Missouri's Josh Hawley told "consultants" and "the professional political class" that their day was "over," he was apparently lying.
Image: Josh Hawley
Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley talks to the media after a debate against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018, in...

As a candidate for statewide office just two years ago, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) ran memorable commercials featuring a bunch of men in suits climbing ladders. It was a compelling metaphor: Hawley complained about ambitious politicians running for offices they don't really care about, only to climb ladders to some higher office.

The Missouri Republican told voters he actually wanted to serve as state attorney general, and voters believed him, handing the young attorney -- he was just 36 on Election Day 2016 -- an easy win.

On the heels of his victory, Hawley publicly denounced "consultants" and "the professional political class" that he said ran Missouri. "Your day is over," he said at the time.

Just eight months after taking office, Hawley formed a U.S. Senate exploratory committee. I can appreciate the fact that ambition and politics go hand in hand, but as we discussed in February, I've never seen a politician go out of his way to promise voters he wouldn't use his office to seek higher office, only to shamelessly break that promise less than a year later.

But what we didn't know until yesterday was how Hawley spent those first eight months as the state attorney general. The Kansas City Star  reported yesterday that just weeks after his swearing in, the Republican brought in a team of political consultants to "help direct the office of the Missouri attorney general."

Hawley's out-of-state political consultants gave direct guidance and tasks to his taxpayer-funded staff, and followed up to ensure the tasks were completed, according to emails, text messages and other records obtained by The Kansas City Star. [...]As the months went on, Hawley's political consultants flew to Missouri for official events and to meet with the attorney general's staff during work hours in the state Supreme Court building, where the 38-year-old Republican's official office is located.The campaign-led strategy sessions, which began in January 2017, raised legal and ethical concerns at the time among some of Hawley's employees, who worried about mixing politics with public business. The situation also left them confused about the chain of command.

Among other things, Hawley's out-of-state consultants had input into the state AG's budget, personnel, and the rollout of official initiatives.

Or put another way, when the Missouri Republican told "consultants" and "the professional political class" that their day was "over," he was lying.

Two weeks ago, both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times took separate looks at Josh Hawley's (R) tenure as state attorney general, and both painted an unflattering portrait, including criticisms from state judges over his office's work.

That office suddenly looks a whole lot worse.

Hawley is taking on incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in one of the nation's most competitive Senate races. The latest polling suggests the race could go either way.