- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2020

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - GOP Missouri lawmakers on Wednesday drilled state Auditor Nicole Galloway’s official staffers amid continued Republican claims of political bias in work by the Democrat, who is running for governor.

The Wednesday state House committee hearing came after Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley’s campaign blasted an audit that Galloway’s office is conducting of Hawley’s time as attorney general. He left the office after unseating former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2018.

Audits of departing statewide elected officials’ administrations are required under Missouri law. The audit of Hawley’s office has not yet been publicly released, and state law prevents Galloway’s office from commenting on ongoing audits.

Hawley’s campaign in a press release said he’s “pleased with the conclusion of the audit” but said it showed “evidence of political bias.”

Galloway has asked critics to reserve judgment until the audit is released in the coming weeks.

“Audit findings result from sufficient evidence and facts found during the course of audit work and in accordance with auditing standards,” Galloway said in Wednesday a statement. “It is simply not true that there was any political bias or impropriety during the audit process.”

An attorney for Hawley in a response to the audit pointed to an email accidentally sent to the Attorney General’s Office by an auditor discussing what to include in the final audit report. Hawley attorney Brian Barnes quoted the staffer as writing: “I’m thinking I’ll just drop the confidentiality paragraph in the report and beef up the personal email/personal calendar section.”

“The email confirms that for political reasons the Auditor’s Office was determined to issue a report that is critical of Mr. Hawley’s tenure as Attorney General,” Barnes wrote. “Where audit staff could not make one charge stick, they beefed up others.”

Hawley’s lawyer also pointed to a staffer who worked on the audit and gave McCaskill a $50 campaign donation in 2018. In response to complaints from Hawley, Galloway’s office replaced the staffer with a new audit manager, Jon Hawles.

Halwes told lawmakers during the Wednesday committee that he doesn’t believe there was bias, but the office switched out the staffer “just to eliminate the appearance of bias.”

Hawley’s attorney also pointed to Galloway’s hiring of former McCaskill campaign manager David Kirby to be the Auditor’s Office lobbyist. Halwes told lawmakers that Kirby excluded himself from the audit of Hawley.

Audits undergo at least four levels of review before being released, Halwes testified. He said if staffers don’t disclose potential bias at the start of audits, the office has a system of checks and balances to ensure fairness.

“It would be, in my mind, virtually impossible for an audit to be released that would not be independent,” he said.

Hawley’s criticism of Galloway has been picked up by the Republican Governors Association, which is backing Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s bid to keep his seat in the November election. The group’s political action committee, RGA Right Direction PAC, on Tuesday announced it launched digital ads targeting Galloway over the audit.

“These disturbing revelations call into question who Nicole Galloway truly serves – Missouri taxpayers or a partisan political agenda,” RGA spokeswoman Amelia Chassé Alcivar said in a statement. “Galloway owes voters answers about why her office is engaging in political machinations instead of doing the job she was elected to do.”

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