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Top Hawley Aide To Be Questioned In Democrat Lawsuit Alleging Sunshine Law Violation

File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio

Democrats are seeking to question one of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley’s longtime advisers as part of a lawsuit alleging the attorney general’s office under Hawley knowingly violated Missouri’s open records laws.

On Thursday, a subpoena was issued for Daniel Hartman, who served as Hawley’s chief of staff during his short tenure as Missouri attorney general and currently is state director for Hawley’s Senate office.

Hartman’s attorney said Friday that he had already arranged to voluntarily sit for deposition in March.

His deposition is being sought as part of a lawsuit filed in 2019 by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The lawsuit seeks an order from Cole County Circuit Court declaring that the attorney general’s office under Hawley violated the Sunshine Law when it withheld emails between Hawley’s taxpayer-funded staff and his political consultants during the 2018 Senate campaign.

The suit also asks the court to impose civil penalties against the attorney general’s office for “knowingly and purposely” violating the Sunshine Law. And the DSCC wants the office to pay its attorney’s costs.

Before serving as Hawley’s chief of staff, Hartman was custodian of records for the attorney general’s office.

A spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who took over the office after Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018, declined comment.

Neither the DSCC nor Hawley’s Senate office immediately responded to a request for comment.

The lawsuit focuses on a records request the DSCC made in September 2017.

Hawley’s office denied the request in a letter to the DSCC in October 2017. In that letter, Hartman said the office “searched our records and found no responsive records.”

But a year later, an investigation by The Kansas City Star revealed that such communications did exist.

Shortly after he was sworn into office as attorney general, Hawley’s staff began using private email rather than government accounts to communicate with his out-of-state political consultants.

Hawley’s campaign consultants gave direct guidance and tasks to his taxpayer-funded staff and led meetings during work hours in the state Supreme Court building, where the attorney general’s official office is located.

Among those included in the private email discussions was Hartman.

The emails, and the role of private political consultants in a government office, led to a pair of investigations into whether Hawley illegally misused state resources for campaign purposes.

The first inquiry, conducted by Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, concluded with a finding that there was no evidence that Hawley violated election law.

The second, conducted by Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway, couldn’t determine if the law was broken specifically because of the use of personal email, calendars and text messaging.

The DSCC alleges that “Hartman knew, or should have known, that responsive records existed, some of which were stored in Hartman’s and other employees’ personal email accounts.”

Hawley has previously dismissed the accusations that he or his staff violated the state’s open records laws. Shortly after it was filed, his spokeswoman called the litigation “yet another frivolous political suit.

Schmitt has sought to get the case dismissed, arguing that the emails in question were “transitory” correspondence — meaning they didn’t need to be turned over because they were not required to be retained in the first place.

Among the 85 pages of emails, text messages and other documents that were eventually made public was a January 2017 email string where Louisiana-based consultant Timmy Teepell told Hawley’s staff to “start compiling a punch list of what we need to do to roll out each of our agenda items this year.”

Teepell wrote that the staffers “should put together a weekly conference call for all of us to set aside time each week to focus attention on these projects.”

In another, from April 2017, Teepell sets tasks for attorney general staff to accomplish, such as developing a target list of key legislators, a job description for a press secretary and a list of accomplishments.

Another email that DSCC argues would fall under its records request included a document laying out plans for the attorney general’s office regarding a raid of more thana dozen Asian massage parlors in southwest Missouri that would take place a week later.

It detailed how the day should proceed, even going so far as to provide Hawley instructions on what he should wear when addressing the media.

“Josh should be wearing some sort of law enforcement garb,” the document said, “like a police jacket and hat.”

On the day of the raid, Hawley wore a badge and lanyard.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions:

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio

Jason Hancock | Missouri Independent