Judge Fines Trump Muppet Josh Hawley For Violating Public Records Laws To Protect His Senate Run
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: Senator Josh Hawley is not a Good Person. The former attorney general had the chance to be a good person, but instead became the poster boy for insurrection by raising his fist in support of Trump fans on their way to raiding the Capitol building in hopes of illegally keeping an un-elected president in office.
He was not great before this moment of infamy, either. He pledged himself to Donald’s causes, taking aim at tech companies and Section 230 immunity because his new boss thought the real problem with the internet was all the moderation efforts that resulted in fewer MAGA bigots baying for the blood of the president’s many, many, many enemies on social media platforms.
But before he was an extremely subservient senator, he was the Attorney General for the state of Missouri. Maybe he was ok at his job. His record has hits and misses, like anyone in the difficult position of appeasing political powers while at least tipping the hat occasionally towards the best interests of the public.
But Hawley hitched his star to Team Trump. To get to where he wanted to go, he got in on the grift. And for that, he’s been sanctioned. Most politicians will bend rules. The problem here is that the rules got bent while Hawley was still the state’s top law enforcement official — you know, the sort of person who punishes people who break the rules. And, conveniently, the person who can make final calls on public records requests to decide what the public can or can’t obtain.
If we’ve learned nothing else over the years, it’s that laws mean nothing to law enforcement. And the state’s public records laws meant nothing to acting AG Josh Hawley… at least not while he was trying to obtain a promotion.
A state judge held Tuesday that U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, while acting as the Missouri attorney general, intentionally withheld government communications to avoid damage to his 2018 Senate campaign.
Cole County Judge Jon Beetem, a Republican, found that the context behind the records requests in question supports the contention that the AG’s office acted in a knowing and purposeful manner in refusing to release the records.
It only took Judge Beetem 19 pages [PDF] to fine Hawley $12,000, a cost he may decide to offload on his supporters, since that’s the way Trump does it. It may not seem like much (it isn’t!), but it is the maximum fine allowed by law. That’s $5,000 for each “purposeful violation” and $1,000 for each “knowing violation.” One and the same, I would think, but I’m totally here for the compounding.
The court says Hawley began using a personal email address “as early as January 2017.” Not cool, especially since Hawley being state AG gave him “significant familiarity” with the state’s public records requirements. That’s against the rules.
AGO [Attorney General’s Office] policies instruct employees that they can ensure records concerning public business are retained by the AGO by providing them to the custodian of records. AGO policies also prohibit AGO employees from conducting AGO business on private emails.
So, there’s no way Hawley didn’t know what was the what when he decided to (1) use a private email address, and (2) deny requests that might have exposed his shittiness.
The court, however, exposes both. And then it goes further, tying what was withheld to Hawley’s Senate campaign:
Contrary to the AGO’s suggestion, the fact that the AGO was involved in a different lawsuit against DSCC [the public records requester and supporter of Hawley’s opposition in the Senate race] concerning a different Sunshine Law request does not sweep all DSCC requests under the Litigation Exemption. This is because the Litigation Exemption does not shield documents from production just because they concern potentially controversial subject matter that might someday become the subject of litigation.
The exemption doesn’t apply. The AGO’s office is required to produce all responsive records, even if the head of the office is trying to subvert that by using a personal email account to conduct government business. And the AGO’s office (along with AG Hawley) is not allowed to withhold records simply because their release might jeopardize the AG’s political campaign.
The court says its decision will not force every public agency to have access to every public employee’s private email accounts. That is not the conclusion it reaches. But it says the AG’s office suggested remedy is unacceptable.
The approach urged by the AGO, on the other hand, is unprecedented and creates a roadmap for abuse. It would allow the agency and its custodian to shield public records merely by storing them offsite. By simply choosing to conduct business over private email, or to work on private computers and devices, agencies could deny citizens the open government that the General Assembly sought to ensure and render the Sunshine Law toothless.
Then the court arrives at its conclusion: the AG’s office didn’t just violate law and policy to deny a request. It violated law and policy for the apparent purpose of preventing negative information from harming AG Hawley’s Senate run:
The Courts conclusion that the AGO‘s violations were knowing and purposeful is supported by the context surrounding these request, by the AGO’s conduct in response to the requests, and by the shifting rationales the AGO has offered to explain its failure to tum over responsive documents. To begin, the content of the requests and the respective motivations of both the AGO and DSCC provide essential context. Then-Attomey General Hawley was actively running for U.S. Senate at the time of these requests, which were submitted by a national party committee supporting his opponent. The requested documents showed—at a minimum—a questionable use of government resources, demonstrated by the fact that their eventual public release helped trigger an investigation by the Secretary of State’s Office into the potential misuse of government funds to support Attorney General Hawley’s Senate campaign.
By failing to produce the requested records, Mr. Hartman and the AGO prevented an opposing party committee from accessing documents potentially damaging to then-Attorney General Hawley’s political campaign. What is more, Mr. Hartman—the individual at the enter of the AGO’s failure to turn over these records—is included on much of the correspondence in question, was involved with the Hawley campaign as early as January 2017, and ultimately became Senator Hawley’s state director. This context compels the conclusion that the decision to withhold documents responsive to DSCC’s Sunshine Law requests was made by public officials who had personal and professional stakes in the documents not being released and in the success of then-candidate Hawley’s campaign.
Huh. It looks like Hawley’s policy-violating sin of omission may have helped him… I don’t know.. gain an unfair advantage in an election? I mean, there were better ways to handle this. Not that Hawley would know, but there are. I mean, if you’re concerned your political opponents might use information about election ethics violations against you maybe DON’T COMMIT CAMPAIGN ETHICS VIOLATIONS. Just a thought.
But if you can’t play it honest the first time, odds are you’re going to be dishonest the second time around. A $12,000 slap on the wrist isn’t going to make Hawley honest. But it does, at least, drag some more of his extremely dirty laundry out into the sunlight. Maybe the next time he’s up for election, Missouri residents will remember he cheated and lied to get where he is.
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November 21, 2022 at 03:37PM