A month after election, new GOP senator already faces investigation

US President Donald Trump is greeted by US senatorial candidate Attorney General Josh Hawley upon arrival at Springfield-Branson National Airport in Springfield, Missouri on September 21, 2018.
US President Donald Trump is greeted by US senatorial candidate Attorney General Josh Hawley upon arrival at Springfield-Branson National Airport in Springfield, Missouri on September 21, 2018.

In one of this year's most closely watched U.S. Senate races, Missouri's Josh Hawley (R) stood out for a candidacy chased by dark clouds. The Republican promised voters, for example, not to use his office as a springboard to a higher office, but then broke that commitment within months of becoming state attorney general. Hawley also lied repeatedly about the anti-health care lawsuit he helped file.

Both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times took separate looks at Hawley's tenure as state attorney general, and both painted deeply unflattering portraits, including criticisms from state judges over his office's work.

But he's a Republican in a red state, so voters last month elected Hawley to the U.S. Senate anyway. A month after the election, however, Hawley's most serious controversy is already coming back to haunt him. Usually, senators have to wait a while before they find themselves under investigation, but as the Kansas City Star  reported, the Missouri Republican is already facing a probe -- and he won't even be sworn in for several weeks.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has launched an investigation into a complaint that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley used public resources in his successful bid for the U.S. Senate.The American Democracy Legal Fund on Nov. 2 filed a complaint with Ashcroft, claiming that Hawley used out-of-state political consultants to direct the activities of public employees in the attorney general's office to raise Hawley's political profile as he prepared to mount a campaign for U.S. Senate."Josh Hawley's flagrant abuse of his taxpayer funded office for his own political gain deserves immediate investigation," said Brad Woodhouse, ADLF president, in a statement. "We're heartened to see Secretary of State Ashcroft give this racket further scrutiny."

Given what we know, "racket" seems like a fair choice of words.

The controversy stems from Hawley's use of a team of political consultants, whom the Republican brought in to help "direct" his state attorney general's office. The Kansas City Star reported in October:

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.

As regular readers may recall, Hawley's out-of-state consultants had input into the state AG's budget, personnel, and the rollout of official initiatives, among other things.

The allegation from his detractors, obviously, is that Hawley's operation, which seemed to erase the line that's supposed to exist between his office's political and official responsibilities, misused public resources ahead of his bid for federal office.

To be sure, Missouri voters were made aware of the alleged misdeeds before Election Day, and incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) made every effort to make this an important campaign issue. The public shrugged and the Republican won by six points, prevailing in 111 of Missouri's 114 counties.

But at issue isn't what red-state voters care about, but rather, what's allowed under state law. Missouri's Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) -- yes, he's former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's son -- is taking a closer look.