MAGA Attorneys General Are Winning a GOP Civil War

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Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty

The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) is the top national organization for securing GOP wins in state attorney general races. But the group came under scrutiny for its role in the events of Jan. 6 after it was revealed that RAGA’s fundraising arm had made robocalls encouraging people to march on the Capitol at 1 p.m. “to stop the steal.”

Now longtime RAGA staff are leaving the organization, while those connected to the robocall—and the broader movement to challenge the 2020 election results—are on the ascent. The latest appointment, RAGA’s new chair, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, is in the latter group.

Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate in addition to his role as Missouri AG and was the RAGA vice chairman, was tapped as the group’s new chair two weeks ago, the Kansas City Star reported last week. He’s filling one of multiple high-profile posts that was vacated after Jan. 6.

State attorneys general have never been immune from politics. But in recent years, AGs have become more involved in party politics on a national level, according to Paul Nolette, the chair of Marquette University political science department.

“What’s changed is not so much that there’s politics in AGs’ offices but that it’s become so much more polarized and nationalized,” Nolette, who monitors filings by state-level AGs, told The Daily Beast. “You have AGs who are increasingly unwilling to work with AGs across party lines... These AGs are increasingly engaged in national politics and policy, and are focused on often very highly partisan disputes.”

Some of RAGA’s woes began before the Capitol attack. On Jan. 5, RAGA’s fundraising arm, the group Rule of Law Defense Fund, sent out invitations for a conference call on the following day’s rally. Pete Bisbee, the RLDF’s then-leader, sent one of those invites to Schmitt’s office, the Star previously reported.

It’s unclear whether Schmitt or anyone from his office took part in the call, and a spokesperson declined to comment.

Somehow, that wasn’t even the RLDF’s most controversial call that day.

Also on Jan. 5, the group sent out robocalls that appeared to foreshadow the Capitol attack. “At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” the recorded message said, according to Documented. “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight.” (RLDF was also listed as a participating organization on a website that advertised the march.)

RAGA leaders later denied involvement with the call. “No Republican AG authorized the staff’s decision to amplify a colleague speaking at the rally,” the group’s then-executive director Adam Piper said in a statement, condemning the violence at the Capitol.

The Hill reported that Piper had been involved in Jan. 5 planning meetings with Trump administration officials. Piper did not return a request for comment.

He resigned days after the call was made public. But others were soon to follow, and on April 16, RAGA’s then-chair, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, quit the organization with a letter hinting at deep divides.

“During the last several months, it has become clear that there is a significant difference of opinion among members of the RAGA’s executive committee as to the direction this organization should take going forward,” he wrote.

“This fundamental difference of opinion began with vastly opposite views of the significance of the events of January 6 and the resistance by some to accepting the resignation of the executive director,” he added. “The differences have continued as we have tried to restore RAGA’s reputation internally and externally and were reflected once again during the process of choosing our next executive director.”

That executive director turned out to be Bisbee, whose fundraising group was responsible for the robocalls. On April 22, RAGA promoted him to Piper’s vacated role—a move that touched off a new wave of resignations.

RAGA’s finance director, Ashley Trenzeluk, later quit the organization, citing that appointment.

“As RLDF Executive Director, Pete Bisbee approved the robocall expenditure, and was the only other person accountable for RLDF involvement in the January 6 events,” she wrote in a departing email, first reported by the Alabama Political Reporter. “Over the last few months, I have fielded, reassured, and assuaged concerns from our core donor base on the future direction of our organization. The result of the executive committee vote to nominate Pete as RAGA’s Executive Director is a decision I cannot defend.”

Jason Heath, RAGA’s director of operations, was next out the door. “I respect your votes but the direction is not one I can honestly stand behind,” he wrote in an April 25 email obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy.

Bisbee did not directly return The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the robocall or the wave of departures. Instead, a RAGA spokesperson replied with an email stating that “RAGA and the Republican AGs have publicly condemned and disavowed the violence that took place on January 6” and that the group planned on taking aggressive action against President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

With high-level staff headed for the exits, RAGA tapped a new chair with closer ties to the Stop the Steal movement: Schmitt, who has aligned himself with two lawsuits attempting to challenge Biden’s victory.

In the months between Biden’s victory and the Jan. 6 riot, Schmitt signed onto two efforts to invalidate the 2020 election. The first, a Pennsylvania lawsuit, sought to throw away certain mail-in ballots in Biden’s close-won state of Pennsylvania. The second, a lawsuit led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, sought to challenge Biden’s victories in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Paxton, for his part, is facing his own legal woes. Since 2015, he has been indicted on securities fraud charges, which he claims are politically motivated. Last year, the FBI opened an unrelated investigation into allegations that Paxton broke the law to aid a wealthy donor. Paxton has denied the allegations, which are reportedly based on testimonies from seven senior lawyers in Paxton’s office.

He’s not even the only Republican AG under criminal investigation while supporting the broader effort to challenge Biden’s win. South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who signed onto Paxton’s lawsuit, is facing three criminal charges after he allegedly struck and killed a man with his car while looking at his phone. A minute before the fatal crash, Ravnsborg had been reading an article about Biden and China on a conspiracy news site, according to investigators. Ravnsborg initially left the scene of the crash, telling investigators he thought he hit a deer. (Paxton spoke at the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the riot, although Ravnsborg did not.)

Criminal investigations aside, the faction of attorneys general whose own conduct has raised eyebrows appears to be gaining traction in the fight to drag RAGA off the deep end. After all, as Nolette, the Marquette political science chair, noted, modern Republican AGs are likely to feel sustained pressure to add their names to absurd lawsuits like Paxton’s.

“On the one hand, I was surprised to see how many Republican AGs signed on to support that lawsuit,” he said.

“On the other hand,” Nolette added, “I wasn't.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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