Senator Claire McCaskill (D) made a brief statement on a press phone call this morning in response to newspaper reports of political consultants operating in and dictating operations in Attorney General Josh Hawley’s official state office shortly after he took office in 2017. After her statement she took questions from the press.
The transcript of the press Q and A:
Question: …Hawley’s defenders are saying that what he did wasn’t out of the ordinary for an elected official. And that it’s no different than you having political advisors on your campaign payroll as a sitting U.S. Senator and people on your campaign staff who work in your official office and vice versa. What would you say to that? What makes what he, what you understand that he did different?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well the fact that he is trying to say that shows such a lack judgment. My political consultants have never stepped foot in my official office. I wouldn’t allow it. Um, we know, everyone on the staff knows you do not ever cross that line. Um, I think they’re trying to confuse people. It is one thing, I’m not criticizing Josh Hawley hiring people in his official office that had worked with him on the campaign, although I might quarrel with somebody who graduated from law school in twenty-sixteen being qualified to take the very important job she did in what is a very large operating law firm. But, um, certainly he has the right to hire people that he thought were competent on his campaign to work in an official capacity.
That I not what he did here. He took political operatives and brought them inside the official office. That is illegal. Um, and, you know, the, if I started having meetings with my pollster or meetings with my political consultants in my official office I would expect there to be a criminal investigation.
Question: …Also, part of this is, um, you know, we have documents that show that public business was discussed on private e-mail, um, by some of, uh, the AG staffers and campaign, uh, consultants. Do you have any thoughts about that and the Sunshine Law [crosstalk] aspect of this?
Senator McCaskill: So, I, I do, um, think that this, all of this sets a new standard for hypocrisy. Um, you know, you can go down the list of some of the hypocrisy, um, that Josh Hawley has shown, but, you know, whether it’s him on election night proudly proclaiming to Missourians that th political consultants are gonna be banned, that this is a new era of, of clean, ethical transparent government, um, and then his political consultants were in his official office within ten days of him putting his hand on the Bible and taking the oath of office. Um, and, you know, him taking, uh, lobbyist plane rides and him not doing anything on ethics reform. And, obviously, him having two standards in terms of the Sunshine Law, one for, um, his, his political enemies or others and then he has another standard, um, whether it’s the Confide investigation or whether, uh, his selective responses to Sunshine requests to his office. Um, and all of that is troubling. He lacks transparency, the hypocrisy, he’s supposed to be enforcing the Sunshine Law, and he does sham Sunshine investigations and tries to avoid, uh, having any of his business of his office ever available to the public. But, that’s not as concerning as the incredible lack of judgment of bringing political operatives inside the official office to run the day to day operation, uh, which, to promote him. Um, and that, that is a huge red line that he has crossed. And that is, uh, why I am on this call this morning because the facts are so clear that he crossed that line.
Question: Yeah, um, maybe I’m missing something, but the way I’m reading the statute is that you can’t use taxpayer resources for political purposes. But it sounds like he’s using campaign resources for taxpayer purposes. Just looking at it[crosstalk] plainly, so…
Senator McCaskill: He is, well here’s, let me make sure that you understand. He is, every member of his staff is a taxpayer resource. Every e-mail they read from his political operatives is using taxpayer resources. When political operatives are in official meetings giving direction, talking about punch lists that is a political operation that he is bringing his state staff to deal with. He is having the political operatives run the taxpayer operated operation. So he is bending taxpayer resources to his political will. That is using taxpayer resources for political purposes. It may not be a copy machine where he’s copying flyers, but it is just as significant and, frankly, in some ways more insidious because he has turned official resources into a political operation. That’s what violates, uh, not only good judgment, not only does it disappoint Missourians about what the Attorney General’s office is supposed to be, but I believe it crosses the line in terms of the law.
Question: …I was around during the [William] Webster years, you don’t have to tell me that stuff. Okay, so here’s my question, what happens now? What do you want to happen now? Do you expect to run ads highlighting this? Is, I mean, how do you explain this to the average voter?
Senator McCaskill: Well, hopefully, um, the press coverage of this will do some of that. Obviously it’s very late in the campaign, it’s very difficult for us to, uh, change, uh, any of our paid communications in the campaign, uh, on the Thursday before the election. Um, I’m assuming that the people who have jurisdiction over this, uh, that would investigate this read the papers like everyone else. I would be very surprised if they’re not having meetings about it this morning.
Question: You’re referring to the FBI?
Senator McCaskill: I’m referring to anybody who has criminal jurisdiction. Um, you know, I , I am, uh, I would expect if, if I were ever to bring, when I was State Auditor, if I were to bring my political consultants in to the State Auditor’s office and have them start sending e-mails to my employees, giving them directions, talking about budget and staffing issues, how the office should be organized, I would expect to get a call from somebody investigating that, uh, within ten minutes. Because I would assume people who worked for me would have the ethical backbone to stand up and go, wait a minute, we can’t be taking direction from Washington, D.C. political consultants. This is a taxpayer office that is supposed to be off limits to politics. So, I’m, I don’t know what will happen. Um, but I felt strongly enough about what bad judgment this shows that I wanted to make sure I laid out the facts as I would look at them if I were investigating this.
Question: [….] I know you had tried to get him to investigate the Veritas secret undercover, you know, video. Well apparently the Democratic candidate for, in, for Governor of Florida just ran into the same issue. Veritas just released some videos late yesterday and are doing so today on undercover stuff they did with his [inaudible]. Um, any thoughts? I mean, just, is this something that you’re gonna [crosstalk]…
Senator McCaskill: Well, once again, I think this is really, and this may be because of my training as a prosecutor – unlike Josh Hawley I’ve actually been in a criminal courtroom and handled, uh, so many criminal jury trials and understand inherently how this stuff works. Um, my problem with Veritas was violation of the Merchandise Practices Act in that they are a 501(c)(3) that is raising money in Missouri. And you cannot use fraud as part of your effort to raise money. And the fraud that was committed by Veritas was them fraudulently representing who they were, embedding themselves in our campaign over weeks and months, and most importantly, accessing proprietary information in our computers. Almost twenty hours. This, um, this fraudster was in our computers. W obviously know he wasn’t in our computers to help us. And our appeal to Josh Hawley’s office for some kind of independent look at this under the Merchandise Practices Act, is imagine if this happened in, in somebody’s private office if one of their competitors posed as someone else and came in and began working as a low level employee and then got into their computers and with access to proprietary information. Josh Hawley would have five press conferences in one day if that happened. Meanwhile, this happened and, um, he has the Attorney General’s office refer it to his campaign. And he uses this fraud to promote his campaign and raise money with it.
So, that’s the concern. It cannot be a new normal. And I would feel just as strongly about this if some kind of idiot did this thinking they were helping me. You can’t do this. This can’t be accepted as, as normal. Um, and, it’s just, it’s not right. And it’s a violation of the law. Um, I’m sure they will stall on the complaint that’s been filed until after the election. But, um, I’m, I certainly intend, um, to ask the lawyers we’ve hired to handle this, to pursue this because I’d like to clean this up for the next governor’s race or the next U.S. Senate race, regardless which side you’re on. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, I don’t think anybody think this is the right way for us to engage in political discourse in this country.
Question: …Josh Hawley has obviously worked very hard to make this election a referendum, uh, on your position as the Democrat in a, opposed to the president and, uh, a referendum on your time in office. Do you think there’s enough time left in the election given this new information and, and the importance that, that you suggest, um, to, uh, change the trajectory of this race in terms of making it a referendum on Josh Hawley and do you believe there are enough undecided voters out there that could sway some, some folks in your favor?
Senator McCaskill: I will just tell you this. This race is flat tied. Uh, and if anybody tries to work you guys over the next few days, convincing you that it is decided one way or another, uh, you should tell ‘em to pound sand. Uh, there is nobody who knows how this race is gonna turn out.
So, I think every vote matters. That’s the way I’ve campaigned. My campaign schedule has been, um, something that, uh, I don’t think Josh Hawley has ever even envisioned working that hard. Um, and I’m going to continue to work that hard, uh, all the way to the very last moment. And I think my record shows I’m a bipartisan senator, that I have common sense, that I just don’t stand on one side of the room and say the other side stinks. Uh, I try to work cooperatively and find common ground. And I think right now our country needs people who want to knit it back together rather than tear it apart. Uh, that’s my closing argument to Missourians. I know that, um, I’ve got some warts but, um, they’re in plain view.
What I really think this incident with Josh Hawley shows I that Missourians don’t know him well enough. There’s obviously things that we don’t know and I think, um, I hope voters think about that before they cast their ballot on Tuesday.
Question: …I want to be clear of what you’re actually, what you’re actually talking, what you actually want us to do here today. Are you calling for a, him to actually, um, uh, appoint a special prosecutor or special counsel to look into that as you did in the previous episode? And secondly, it seemed to me the way you described it early on, with the eye of the prosecutor, there could be Federal Election Commission, uh, issues involved here. Are you, thought about it, are you going to file an FEC complaint?
Senator McCaskill: Uh, I haven’t thought about that part of it ‘cause the, the facts struck me so clearly as, um, something so similar to what Bill Webster was convicted of. That was using his official office to promote him politically. Um, he pled guilty to two felonies in that regard. And I, that’s what I, I focused on the facts as it relates to, uh, what occurred. Um, and, and this is different, Josh Hawley doesn’t have jurisdiction over this. So there would be no role of Josh Hawley’s office in this investigation. He does have jurisdiction over the Merchandise Practices Act. That’s the difference in the two situations.
So, in the Merchandise Practices Act we had to ask for a special prosecutor because we weren’t confident that Josh Hawley was going to take a hard look at what happened.
Uh, in this instance there are both state and federal, um, prosecutors that have jurisdiction over the utilization of state resources for political purposes. And, um, that’s who I think would, would need to take a look at it.
Question: With what you described earlier would that not be potentially a, uh, an illegal in-kind contribution of use of state resources into a federal campaign? Therefore [crosstalk]…
Senator McCaskill: Well there’s no question, yeah, if, if you want to look at it from that perspective the state employees were contributing to his political effort. Um, now he tried to convince Missourians he was not interested in running for higher office which I thought, which is particularly, I mean it’s just, frankly, unbelievable how easy it is for this guy to look in the camera and say stuff. I mean, look at the video of what he said on election night. He would not allow political consultants in the door anymore. Well it turns out they had an office in his official office. I mean, that, I don’t know, literally if they had an office, but, to make the point I say clearly he didn’t mean any of that. And just like him saying he had no intentions of running until he was talked into it. They were promoting him nationally within a week, within thirty days, within ten days of him taking office. Now why in the world were you getting promoted nationally unless you already have your eye on the [inaudible]. So, you know, this just really exposes, this really pulls back the curtain as to, um, how willing he is to, with all sincerity, and, frankly, he’s good at it. This is a guy who’s very polished, um, and slick. And, and try and convince Missourians that he somehow is not political, uh, I’ve never heard of anybody in statewide office or in any important job in politics having DC political consultants in their office holding meetings within ten days of being, taking office. Um, so, it is, it is astounding to me. There may be FEC violations here, but, um, I would more focus on the, the line that was crossed in terms of using state resources illegally to promote someone politically.
Question: …Your staff is here, that’s on your senate staff is here now. They’re all on vacation. Several have told me last night. But isn’t there also an issue involved in here in sort of that as a tradition and also kind of as a practice for the power of incumbency, comingling people on senate staffs, uh, during campaign crunch season like now, probably paid by the campaign, but, you know, a lot of whom still then go back to the campaign staff? Even though you’re following the letter of the law, uh, in that circumstance, isn’t that sort of breaking the spirit of the law to in the sense…?
Senator McCaskill: No. No. [Name], there’s the law. And you would not believe the lengths we go through to make sure we follow every letter of the law. We do not allow, we won’t even allow state staff to pick me up at airports if I’m making one political stop. Um, if, if I fly from, you know, for one appearance from St. Louis down to Springfield, um, and it’s, there’s gonna be anything political there we won’t even let state staff give me a ride. Um, we are very, very careful because we know what the law is.
So, it is not the same. You can’t just do all this together. I mean, to try and equate someone taking a vacation, not getting paid, um, by the campaign but using their own time to be of assistance is not the same as having political consultants directing your state staff. That is apples and oranges. One is illegal and the other is not.
Question: …So, as you look ahead to the final few days of this campaign as this revelation about Attorney General Hawley’s office and the way he ran it, is this the main thing that you plan to talk about with voters across the state as you campaign in the final days, or, or, are you going to be focusing on other issues.
Senator McCaskill: No. I’m gonna, I’m gonna focus on, um, you know, to the extent that I’ve focused on his support of dark money, and, um, money behind the curtain and that he thinks that’s fine for our Democracy. Missourians have had a front row seat to how ugly and, and hard it is to separate fact from fiction when you have so many people funding ads that are anonymous. Uh, and I’m going to talk about that, but I’m mostly going to talk about health care and Medicare and Social Security and what matters to them. And my ability to get things done and not just yell at the other side. Um, Josh Hawley has decided in this campaign that he is gonna win or lose by being one hundred percent never wavering from President Trump. Ever wavering. Not on [inaudible], not on anything. In fact, he’s actually said that. He disagrees with nothing the president has done.
I’m running this campaign on, um, I’m not here to fight the president I’m here to fight for you. And if that means I agree with the president, great, if not, um, I’m not afraid. And, um, the same thing goes for big pharma, uh, the same thing goes for Chuck Schumer, um, I am not afraid of any of those folks. And that’s my closing argument. Is that I’m gonna look after Missouri and not a political party and not any individual.