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Missouri State Attorney General Josh Hawley

Missouri State Attorney General and U.S. senatorial candidate Josh Hawley speaks to the press Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, outside his South County campaign office. He spoke about Sen.Claire McCaskill's reluctance to debate him, addressed the minimum wage issue, and answered questions from the audience. photo by Hillary Levin, hlevin@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • Gov. Eric Greitens stormed into power the same day Attorney General Josh Hawley took his seat in a suite of offices across from the Capitol. A year passed before Greitens’ administration began to collapse. Greitens made few friends in the capital city. In April, he took aim at Hawley.

Hawley had said at a news conference that Greitens likely committed felony computer tampering before taking office. Greitens fired back with a statement saying that Hawley was “better at press conferences than the law.” A little more than a month later, Greitens resigned, retreating to his Warren County lake house.

The episode was striking — two young, conservative outsiders trading barbs.

But Greitens is not the only person to question Hawley’s motivations and effectiveness.

Adversaries portray Hawley, 38, as a young man in a hurry — someone more interested in headlines than results.

Hawley points to accomplishments that range from helping to orchestrate a sex trafficking sting in Springfield, Mo., to launching an initiative seeking to link service members with pro bono legal help.

Now that Hawley is running for U.S. Senate against Democrat Claire McCaskill, his two years as attorney general — the only public office he’s ever held — provide the only work sample voters have to judge his effectiveness as an elected leader.

Accomplishments

When he took office in early 2017, Hawley oversaw a chaotic office-wide restructuring that was followed by high turnover, the Post-Dispatch reported Sunday.

Despite that turnover, Mary Compton, Hawley’s spokeswoman, cited several accomplishments, including: settling a lawsuit with the Bridgeton Landfill that Hawley’s predecessor filed; collecting a record amount of Medicaid fraud restitution; and earning more than 100 convictions at the trial court level.

Hawley also settled a decadelong legal battle between blind Missourians and the state over the Blind Pension Fund.

After reporting by the Columbia Missourian on the state’s sexual assault kit testing backlog, Hawley launched an audit of the problem. He documented 5,424 untested kits, though many police agencies did not respond to questions. His office also landed a federal grant to help ease the backlog.

Hawley said his consumer protection section has obtained $30 million for Missourians; it was not immediately clear how that figure compares to past administrations. He praised his prosecutors for their criminal convictions and successful judgments on appeal.

“They often do it at less pay than they could get in the private sector,” Hawley said in an interview. “And they’re doing a good job.”

Hawley’s new Federalism Unit took 14 actions to torpedo federal laws and regulations, including the Affordable Care Act, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and several environmental protections. Some former employees complain the emphasis diverted attention away from more pressing (and less glamorous) state business.

The attorney general has made other moves that garnered both praise and criticism.

On Aug. 31, Hawley filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin Branson Duck Boats and Ripley Entertainment from operating the vehicles in Missouri. In July, 17 people died when a duck boat sank in Table Rock Lake in Branson during a storm.

The company owners questioned the accuracy of his allegations and insinuated the lawsuit was filed to burnish Hawley’s credentials.

“The Attorney General’s suggestion that BDV and Ripley flouted safety concerns in the name of profits is nothing more than baseless hyperbole, aimed at leveraging and stoking passions in the aftermath of this tragedy in an effort to polish the Attorney General’s prosecutorial credentials,” the companies’ attorneys wrote in court documents.

“People will fight me, accuse me of things all the time,” Hawley said. “I would just say to the Branson duck boat folks — Duck Boat Vehicles and Ripley Entertainment — they better check their rhetoric and take responsibility for their actions, because they’ve got a long road ahead of them.

“I don’t want them operating duck boats anywhere in Missouri,” he added.

Hawley also has announced several investigations during his tenure, including one into possible Catholic clergy sex abuse, two related to tech companies Google and Facebook and another related to pharmaceutical companies under allegations of opioid pill pushing. He also announced an investigation into Equifax after a data breach last year.

“I’m most proud of standing up to the big and powerful on behalf of the people of Missouri — no matter what, no matter who,” Hawley said. “We’ve done that, whether it’s big pharma, big tech or organized crime — human traffickers, Medicaid fraudsters.”

Hawley sued several pharmaceutical companies last summer. The Google and Facebook investigations are ongoing. His Catholic clergy probe involves potentially hundreds of thousands of documents.

Joseph Bindbeutel, who served three of Hawley’s predecessors, said he was struck by how many times Hawley has publicized his probes.

“Those investigations are going to take years to complete,” Bindbeutel said, referring specifically to the tech probes. “When you yell them (investigation announcements) from the mountaintops, it makes one wonder, ‘Is this about yelling from the mountaintops, or is this about doing a straight up, legitimate, thorough investigation of an issue?’”

Greitens’ ghosts

Hawley has not updated the public in months on his investigation into Greitens’ former charity, The Mission Continues, and whether Greitens or others illegally used charity resources for personal or political gain.

He was also investigating to see whether Greitens or his staff illegally used taxpayer resources for campaign purposes, but it is unclear where that probe stands.

Hawley said at an August press gaggle that the probes were ongoing. He has unsurprisingly avoided mention of Greitens on the campaign trail.

“Greitens’ resignation handed Hawley a great gift,” said Terry Smith, political science professor at Columbia College. “I’m sure Claire was really sad when he left office. It was going to be a real albatross.”

Meanwhile, two private attorneys have continued to probe the Greitens administration. Elad Gross, a former assistant attorney general under Democrat Chris Koster, sued Greitens’ nonprofit, A New Missouri, in June after the dark money group declined to turn over financial information to Gross.

Gross is sparring with Gov. Mike Parson’s office over a $3,618 bill for documents. He sued Parson’s administration last week. He also mailed Hawley’s office a packet explaining why he thinks Hawley can investigate A New Missouri, but the office still contends it cannot.

Mark Pedroli, a St. Louis County attorney, sued the Greitens administration in December over Greitens’ use of the text-message destroying smartphone app Confide, which he says violated state records retention laws.

While Pedroli continues to gather evidence that he says shows Greitens and his staff broke the law, Hawley’s office said in March it found no evidence of wrongdoing.

In another case, Hawley used the merchandising practices law to sue the St. Louis Housing Authority and McCormack Baron Management, which both manage the Clinton-Peabody Housing Complex south of downtown St. Louis.

Hawley alleged in his August lawsuit that the housing authority and McCormack Baron fraudulently marketed complexes as habitable, when, in fact, the units were not. He wants the two entities to return rent payments to tenants.

Problems at the complex, built in 1942, became widely known after mice invaded the complex last fall. While mice infested an estimated 165 of 358 units last December, the St. Louis Health Department said in August that an estimated six units showed evidence of mice after an inspection that month.

The housing authority and McCormack Baron have called the lawsuit unhelpful. Cheryl Lovell, director of the authority, said her staff has worked “tirelessly” to solve the problems on a shoestring budget. She said Hawley did not meet with the housing authority before filing a lawsuit.

The housing authority and McCormack Baron also say that Clinton-Peabody has not been able to access federal funds that would allow for interior renovations.

Hawley says the criticisms sound like “excuses.”

“We are going to hold them accountable no matter how much they kick and scream and make excuses,” he said. “These are people’s homes were talking about.”

To Hawley’s critics, the headline-grabbing announcement was just that: a headline-grabbing announcement. The two sides are not even scheduled to appear in court for an initial review until Nov. 13, after the election.

“I think it’s more political than anything,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. “He’s trying to keep his name out there.”

Hawley vs. McCaskill: Coverage of the 2018 Senate race

Post-Dispatch coverage of the 2018 race for Missouri's U.S. Senate seat.

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.

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