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Senator Hawley reacts to Missouri court ruling that his office 'knowingly and purposefully' violated transparency laws

The court ruling included a maximum penalty and a fined the Attorney General's Office $12,000. Hawley's campaign has not offered to cover the cost to taxpayers.

ST. LOUIS, Missouri — A circuit court ruling issued in Cole County on Tuesday found former Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley's office "knowingly and purposefully" withheld sensitive documents from public view and covered it up for nearly a year-and-a-half during his 2018 run for the U.S. Senate.

The 19-page ruling includes a maximum penalty and fines the Missouri Attorney General's office $12,000 for an incident that occurred during Hawley's 2018 campaign for the U.S. Senate. 

Hawley's Senate campaign did not answer direct questions asking if he or his campaign would cover the cost to taxpayers. 

Kyle Plotkin, a spokesman for Hawley's current Senate campaign, said:

"These allegations are based on Democrat campaign attacks. They have been investigated multiple times, and no wrongdoing has been found, including by a Democrat State Auditor."

"The court did not find that I did anything wrong," Hawley responded Wednesday afternoon on The Record, casting the origin of the investigation as "baseless and partisan."

Hawley's answer draws distinctions between himself personally, the office he was elected to lead, and the campaign he ran.

The new court ruling said the conduct in Hawley’s office "supports the court’s finding that the violations here were knowing and purposeful," but includes no evidence that Hawley was personally involved in the cover up. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, working in support of former Senator Claire McCaskill's re-election campaign, filed the initial requests seeking documents from Hawley's office under Missouri's Sunshine Act

The DSCC sought personal emails pertaining to public business conducted on behalf of the Attorney General's office. Daniel Hartman, the former custodian of records for Hawley, also previously worked at Hawley's campaign when he was running for Attorney General.

When Democrats filed a Sunshine Act request searching for public emails on Hartman's personal account, he claimed Hawley’s government office retained no documents like that. However, documents later revealed that wasn't true. 

Eventually, the American Democracy Legal Fund filed a complaint alleging Hawley had used government funds to boost his Senate campaign. The complaint triggered investigations into Hawley’s office. Those investigations were related to the subject matter but separate and apart from this court finding. 

"There have been multiple investigations, including by a Democrat auditor, into me personally," Hawley said. "Every one of them has exonerated me and found no wrongdoing on my part whatsoever."

The question at hand is did the Attorney General’s Office violate the Sunshine Act by failing to turn over documents on its servers? 

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem, a Republican, wrote in his decision:

“This court holds that it did.”

The court said Hawley’s office violated the Sunshine Law in at least two ways – failing to provide a detailed explanation for its delay in handing over the documents – and by withholding those documents for nearly a year and a half.

“None of the arguments from the Attorney General’s office justified its violation of the law," the ruling said. 

The court said by failing to produce the records, Mr. Hartman and Hawley's government office prevented an opposing party committee from accessing documents potentially damaging to Hawley's political campaign.

The court said the fact that "public business was conducted through and stored on private email accounts – in direct contravention of the AGO’s official policies – is itself evidence" of a cover up. 

Editor's Note: Daniel Hartman worked for Josh Hawley's political campaign for the Missouri Attorney General's office, not for Hawley's campaign for the U.S. Senate. The campaign for state office is no longer active.

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