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Missouri Attorney General’s Office Communicated On ‘War Games’ With GOP Group Via Government Email

Records obtained from the office of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (at left) have two St. Louis-based attorneys raising concerns and digging deeper.
File photo / Jason Rosenbaum
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St. Louis Public Radio
Records obtained from the office of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (at left) have two St. Louis-based attorneys raising concerns and digging deeper.

St. Louis attorneys Elad Gross and Mark Pedroli got a surprise in a set of documents they recently unearthed via Sunshine requests: proof that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office exchanged emails with the Rule of Law Defense Fund leading up to the November 2020 election — and continued to receive numerous communications from staffers at the fund afterward.

The defense fund is a fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association. For months following the election, the organizations amplified former President Trump’s false claims about a stolen election. The defense fund even sent a robocall urging “patriots” to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

And staffers there corresponded in recent months with at least one member of Schmitt’s top staff: Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer.

“He replied [to Rule of Law Defense Fund] to confirm his attendance at the ‘War Games’ meeting in September,” Gross told St. Louis on the Air. The itinerary for that meeting involved political strategizing in case of Trump’s defeat at the ballot box. Sauer subsequently became the counsel of record on the amicus brief filed by some Republican attorneys general challenging election results in Pennsylvania and other states.

Most of what Gross and Pedroli have sorted through are blind-copy emails from the defense fund to the attorney general’s office. In at least one case, though, Sauer responded.

To Gross, a former assistant attorney general under Schmitt’s predecessor, it all suggests a surprising mix of political action and state business.

“Having worked there before, I didn’t think there’d be any emails from these political groups within the attorney general’s office at all — was very surprised to find out I was very wrong about that,” Gross said.

As Gross explained on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Missouri law prohibits the use of state resources for political ends, and there’s some history of enforcing that law in the Show-Me State. Former Attorney General William Webster went to prison for it.

“He was sentenced to a two-year term of imprisonment in the early ’90s,” Gross said. “I mean, he did a whole lot of stuff, but the stuff that he pled guilty on was using a copy machine for some campaign materials. … Our law is very clear, and the law of many states is very clear, that you cannot use public resources for political purposes.

“And that’s what these emails are showing. Not only was the email account used for that purpose, but taxpayer-paid staff were doing this on work time. It boggles my mind to even think about it.”

St. Louis on the Air reached out to Schmitt’s office for comment. A spokesman referred to a previous statement describing the Rule of Law Defense Fund as “a policy organization, and as you can expect, we collaborate with other Republican attorneys general offices on matters of policy, sign-on opportunities, and potential lawsuits, just as we do with broader organizations like the National Association of Attorneys General.”

Elad Gross is a constitutional attorney and former assistant attorney general of Missouri.
File photo / Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio

Gross took issue with that comparison, drawing a contrast between NAAG’s nonpartisan policy efforts and those of the defense fund, which he described as “a dark money organization … used to coordinate with the Trump campaign specifically.”

Gross said he believes the state’s residents deserve better.

“It’s such an important office that can do so much for folks, and it’s charged with doing so much, especially regulating corporations, protecting consumers, and we cannot have an office like that compromised if we are going to have justice for Missourians,” he said.

Going forward, he said he wants to see public transparency improved in Missouri. He’d also like to see the state legislature hold Schmitt’s office to account.

“We need to see an investigation into the use of state taxpayer-funded resources for political purposes in the attorney general’s office,” Gross said.

As he and Pedroli continue to gather records, they’re also making them accessible online. And they’re now submitting Sunshine requests to states around the U.S. to expand the paper trail.

“This implicates attorneys general all across the country,” Gross said.

He added that it’s already been enlightening to comb through the communications of attorneys general offices near and far, giving one recent example from South Carolina. Documents from that state include an exchange in which the South Carolina attorney general was asked about spending of state taxpayer money on filing lawsuits in the wake of the November election.

“Their response was, ‘Oh, no, don’t worry — Missouri spent that money,’” Gross said. “‘Missouri was the one that wrote this. We just read it.’”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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