Among the many unanswered questions about the January 6 Capitol riot, there's this: How much were the nation's Republican attorneys general complicit in having created the climate that allowed it to happen?
It's a fine question for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, although don't expect any answers soon. Regardless, one fact has emerged in the aftermath of Trump's attempted tyranny: Schmitt's office — and countless others like it — were shamefully overrun by politics in service to the dear leader.
Schmitt is the vice president of the national Republican Attorneys General Association. After two months of loyally cooperating with Donald Trump's Big Lie about election fraud, RAGA promoted Trump's January 6 rally through the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a political subsidiary it billed as a policy arm.
"At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal," said a voice on a robocall to RAGA supporters. Violence was not specifically mentioned. Then again, neither was the fact that there was no permit for such a march.
The Rule of Law Defense Fund, or RLDF, was listed as a participating organization in a website set up to promote the rally that preceded the riot. The website is no longer to be found. Nor is the executive director of RAGA, who walked the plank just days later, protecting anyone else who might have been in on the decision for RAGA to go full-Trump nuts.
For his part, Schmitt was emphatic that no buck stopped with him despite his prominent position at RAGA. Like all his counterparts, he immediately denied any knowledge of the robocall and claimed he did not condone the results of Trump supporters' rage over the Big Lie that he himself helped promote.
Schmitt had taken a leading role among Republican attorneys general in trying to overturn the election results. Almost immediately after the election, he jumped on Trump's pile of lies about mail-in voting equating to fraud. Then he took a lead role — at Missouri taxpayers' expense through staff time — in the filing of amicus briefs in two cases: one attacking Pennsylvania's electoral sovereignty; the second, that infamous Texas case that essentially sought to overturn democracy writ large.
After both cases were swatted away like flies by the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, Schmitt said — well, he apparently did not say much that can be found online. It's possible Schmitt has accepted that President Joe Biden was duly chosen by Americans through a free and fair election, but if so, he's keeping that to himself. As recently as last Friday, spokesman Chris Nuelle declined to respond to a question about it.
On January 6, Schmitt had tweeted, "Every American has a right to peacefully protest but violence and lawlessness simply cannot be tolerated," and sought prayers for law enforcement officials. When asked by the Missouri Times about the RAGA robocall, he was equally indignant about the outcome of the Stop the Steal effort that RAGA had been supporting for two months:
"Attorney General Schmitt absolutely had no knowledge of or involvement in the robocall and condemns the violence that took place on Wednesday in the strongest possible terms, period," Nuelle said.
That may be true, but so is this: There's no way Schmitt can pretend not to have known about RAGA's prominent role in promoting Trump's narrative. Thanks to some enterprising work by local attorney Elad Gross — erstwhile Democratic primary candidate for attorney general — there's now public proof that RLDF had maintained direct and constant communication with Schmitt's office.
Gross discovered through a public-records request that RLDF held at least 30 meetings for senior staff in the offices of state attorneys general, dating back to last July and as recently as January 5, during business hours. Gross had obtained records with the help of fellow local attorney Mark Pedroli of the Sunshine and Government Accountability Project.
The research also revealed that a "War Games" meeting had been held in September to plan for a potential Trump electoral defeat. Emails from RLDF to Schmitt's office confirm that his office was indeed part of those meetings, including the attendance at the War Games by Solicitor General John Sauer, one of the top employees in Schmitt's office.
It is impossible to overstate how inappropriate this is. RLDF, a little-known arm of RAGA, is a 501(c)4 organization and through that status was able to raise funds more anonymously for RAGA. That's fundraising as in dark-money fundraising. Legal? Yes. Political? Oh yes.
Schmitt's office didn't merely cross the bright red line between politics and government in maintaining an inappropriate line of communications with RAGA: It obliterated the line. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last Wednesday that Nuelle said RLDF "was not a political group, but rather a policy organization."
That's just not true. But even if RLDF wasn't officially a 501(c)4 — which it is — any direct relationship of any kind between RAGA and any official state offices is just over-the-top outrageous. The "R" in RAGA is a dead giveaway.
About the only possible way this could be worse would be for the offices involved to represent the top law enforcement authorities of the respective states. Well, there's that.
This isn't partisan, and it isn't debatable. There's nothing sinister about a political organization of Republican attorneys general — the Democrats have one of their own — and it's fine that Schmitt has a leadership role, even if he's not such a good leader as to know what his organization is doing.
But any communication between RAGA and public officeholders like Schmitt by definition must be made strictly to his campaign or personal accounts. Any communication from a political organization to an address ending in "mo.gov" is absolutely forbidden.
Everyone who has served in any state government knows it. One of those people would be Gross, who worked as one of former Attorney General Chris Koster's assistant AGs. Gross says he was pessimistic when Pedroli suggested an email search from Schmitt's office, since it seemed so unlikely that such an improper paper trail would exist.
"I couldn't believe what we found," Gross told me. I worked in state government, and I can't believe it either.
The customary church-state separation of government and politics is the sort of thing Trump scorned, but he's a criminal. Schmitt has to be better than that, even if he did take part in the "Stop the Steal" scam.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).