Updated at 3:30 p.m. with comments from Attorney General Eric Schmitt
Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway released an audit critical of Josh Hawley’s tenure as attorney general, with the Democrat questioning how some of the GOP’s official’s campaign consultants interacted with governmental employees.
The audit, though, states that Galloway’s office “cannot conclude any laws were violated” from the interactions between the consultants and staff — which became a flashpoint near the end of Hawley’s successful 2018 contest against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. And attorneys for Hawley, who has sharply criticized Galloway for how she conducted the audit, took issue with the audit’s conclusions.
Galloway on Thursday released some of a “close-out” audit of Hawley’s tenure as attorney general, which lasted from 2017 to 2019. Most of the audit focuses on how Hawley’s campaign aides, including Timmy Teepell and Gail Gitcho, advised and interacted with Hawley’s taxpayer-paid staff. That prompted the American Democracy Legal Fund to file a complaint with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office about whether Hawley used the attorney general’s office to boost his Senate prospects. Ashcroft, a Republican, found no wrongdoing.
"We found that out-of-state consultants were advising state employees on their work," Galloway said during a press conference Thursday in Jefferson City. "There is no clear violation of state law. But some of that lack of clarity is because that work conducted on private e-mail and private text messages. Obviously, the [attorney general's office] has policies to remedy that — we want those policies followed."
Hawley alleges political bias
In a tweet released shortly after the audit was released, Hawley said: "As we bring impeachment fiasco to a close, I’m also pleased that yet another of the Democrat smears against me from 2018 has been disproved — again. Auditor’s report reaches same conclusion as Secretary of State’s report a YEAR ago: no wrongdoing of any kind by my office as MO AG"
Brian Barnes, an attorney for Hawley, said in a statement that Hawley "never misused state resources for political purposes."
“There is no evidence that provides a basis for second guessing the Secretary of State’s conclusion that Mr. Hawley and his staff fully complied with Missouri law,” Barnes wrote in a response included in Galloway's audit.
Among other things, Galloway’s audit focuses on two particular situations. The first involves Gitcho telling members of the attorney general’s official staff that he’s going to suggest that Hawley be highlighted on Fox News Sunday. The other involved an exchange between two attorney general employees, Elizabeth Johnson and Michael Martinich-Sauter, about an op-ed highlighting Hawley’s litigation against the website Backpage.com. Johnson said Gitcho wanted to incorporate a clear timeline “on how the events transpired for the record so that Josh gets appropriate credit.”
The audit noted that the email was sent a day before Hawley announced an exploratory committee for the U.S. Senate, and adds that Gitcho was providing services past the time span she relayed to the secretary of state’s office. Galloway’s office states these emails are part of “potentially inappropriate communications with campaign-paid consultants.”
“These two interactions between Hawley administration officials and campaign-paid consultants give the appearance of political activity by state employees while using state resources, but no evidence exists that any laws were violated,” the audit stated.
Teepell did not respond to requests for comment.
Campaign funds can be used for some office expenses
State law explicitly allows campaign funds to be used for “ordinary and necessary expenses” connected with an elected office. The audit states “if better documentation had been maintained to show these interactions were solely official in nature, any appearance of impropriety could have been avoided.” It goes onto say “the full content and context of these interactions cannot be determined” because most of the communication occurred “via private communications channels.”
“While the interactions between campaign paid consultants and government officials described in this report give an appearance of impropriety, we cannot conclude that any laws were violated,” the audit states.
Galloway’s audit also states that employees used personal email and phones to conduct state business. It points to instances where Hawley used the state vehicle and a state employee as a driver and security detail “for some trips for which the business purpose was not documented.”
It goes on to say “at least a portion of some of these trips had political purposes and other trips had the appearance of being personal in nature.” It recommends the attorney general’s office “determine the amount of state resources used for political and, if applicable, personal purposes by former Attorney General Hawley, and seek reimbursement for such costs.”
Barnes wrote that Hawley “occasionally took trips that involved both official state business and separate stops related to political activity.” He added that “any stops related to political activity were incidental to state business.”
He also said that Hawley’s staffers’ use of personal email and phones complied with state law and records requirements.
Hawley files complaint against Galloway
The audit was released in the wake of criticism from Hawley and Republican lawmakers. A Missouri House committee questioned two of Galloway’s staffers last week about how their office conducted the audit. And Hawley's campaign announced on Thursday they were filing a complaint with the Missouri State Board of Accountancy.
Among other things, Hawley objected to the person who initially supervised the audit, Bobby Showers, saying he donated to McCaskill and made disparaging comments about Donald Trump. Showers was eventually replaced to remove any perception of bias. Galloway said Showers' replacement did a thorough review of the work product and "found no bias."
"That audit director's mistake was having a political opinion that was different than Sen. Hawley's," Galloway said.
Hawley objected to how a member of the auditor’s office, Pam Allison, inadvertently sent an email to the attorney general’s office saying she would “drop the confidentiality paragraph in the report and beef up the personal email/personal calendar section.” The message was in response to a question about confidentiality with expert witnesses and other services in litigation.
“This matter is over as to me,” Hawley said in an interview in January. “I think this is somebody who wants to be the governor of the state of Missouri. I think these questions about what’s going on in her office are really important ones. And I think it’s really important we have an independent auditor who’s actually discharging the duties of her office as the constitution and laws require.”
Responding to Hawley complaints
In response to Hawley’s criticism of Allison’s email, the audit states the email is “not evidence of a lack of objectivity, rather evidence that the audit team was appropriately evaluating audit evidence.” It goes on to say that when presented with evidence that satisfied one area of concern, the audit team “removed a potential finding, and when presented additional evidence to support another existing area of concern, made the decision to include that information in the initial draft of the report.”
Allison, who was present at the press conference, said "drafting an audit report is similar to writing a research paper." She said prior to sending this e-mail, Allison's staff had found there was sufficient and appropriate evidence to support a finding regarding the personal use of emails, texts and Google calendars.
"Much has been made of the word choice in the email," Allison said. "I was raised on a family farm in Polk County, Missouri, where we raised beef cattle. We raise calves from birth to about a year old when we send them to the feed lot — we're they're beefed up or finished. So this termonology is commonly use. And the email to staff was casual in nature and only meant that I intended to add detail or finish the finding."
Galloway said “a sitting U.S. Senator used his political apparatus to essentially conduct opposition research on state employees."
“The current Attorney General was questioning our ability and authority to do this audit from the very beginning, and we are dependent on the auditee cooperating with us and providing us information in a timely fashion," Galloway said during the press conference.
Members of Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office strongly objected to the audit, including interview transcripts and audit communications, contending they represent “a troubling and unprecedented departure from required audit practice.”
Schmitt spokesman Chris Nuelle said the attorney general's office correspondence "showed that we operated in a professional, cooperative manner."
"From the beginning, the Attorney General’s Office worked tirelessly to cooperate and work with the State Auditor’s Office," Nuelle said. "That means dedicating thousands of man hours to gather, review and transmit hundreds of thousands of pages of records, line up interviews and meetings, and respond to requests, all while continuing to perform the normal duties of the Attorney General’s Office."
Galloway’s audit states that “including information obtained during an audit as appendices is very common and not unique to this administration.”
Galloway also noted that an audit of the “ general operations” of the attorney general’s office still in progress, and “any additional findings and recommendations will be included in the subsequent report.”
St. Louis Public Radio's Julie O'Donoghue contributed information for this story.
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