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Ethics committee dismisses complaint against Missouri speaker

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A panel of lawmakers dismissed on Monday an ethics complaint against Speaker Dean Plocher, breaking from a Republican who argued that Plocher used his power as the House leader to block an investigation.

Members voted 7-2 to dismiss allegations against Plocher for misuse of taxpayer dollars, using his influence to push a pricey contract with a company with ties to his employer, and retaliating against staffers who raised complaints. One Democrat voted present.

“From the outset of this investigation, I’ve maintained my innocence,” Plocher told reporters after the hearing. “The Ethics Committee has finally reached the very same conclusion that I offered everybody back in November, and they vindicated me.”

Plocher is running as a Republican for Missouri secretary of state.

Republican Ethics Committee Chair Hannah Kelly, appointed to the position by Plocher, sought to dismiss the case “due to the inability of the committee to finish the investigation as a direct result of obstruction of the process and intimidation of witnesses by the respondent.”

“The Speaker’s obstruction of the ethics investigation, coupled with his dishonesty and intimidation tactics, should concern every member of the House,” Kelly said in a statement after the vote. “The attempt to manipulate and cover up an ethics investigation reveals a troubling disregard for accountability and the rule of law.”

Other committee members, led by Republican Rep. John Black, voted to strip Kelly’s addendum on alleged obstruction from the official report. Black declined to comment to reporters about his decision.

Asked by reporters Monday, Plocher said he “fully cooperated” with the investigation.

“I adamantly deny that I obstructed anything,” Plocher said.

Another Republican lawmaker in October had filed the wide-ranging ethics complaint against Plocher, alleging that he improperly accepted taxpayer dollars as reimbursement for business trips that he had already paid for with his campaign funding.

Plocher admitted to wrongfully being reimbursed for a business-class flight to Hawaii and other work trip expenses, and records show he repaid the House.

Plocher also faced claims that he used his influence as speaker to push the House to contract with a company connected to the law firm where he worked, and that he retaliated against staffers who raised concerns about the proposal.

Ethics Committee members voted on April 15 against recommending that the House send a letter to Plocher denouncing his conduct and directing him to hire an accountant.

Since then, Plocher’s lawyers have pushed the Ethics Committee to close the case against him.

In an unusual move that appears to violate the House’s self-imposed ethics rules, Republican Speaker Pro Tem Mike Henderson tried to force the committee last week to meet by scheduling an ethics hearing.

Kelly canceled the hearing but called for Monday’s meeting amid mounting pressure.

Only Kelly and Democratic Vice Chair Robert Sauls voted against dismissing the case.

“I am appalled by what I witnessed today as some of my colleagues on the House Ethics Committee decided to turn a blind eye to the obstruction, intimidation, and retaliation we uncovered during our investigation,” Kelly said in a statement.

The draft committee report released earlier this month outlined the speaker’s lawyer’s refusal to talk to an independent investigator, Plocher’s reluctance to sign off on subpoenas for the investigation, and his refusal to approve payment for the independent investigator.

Plocher later recused himself, allowing the speaker pro tem to sign off on subpoenas.

In a report to the committee, the independent investigator wrote that she had never encountered “more unwilling witnesses in any investigation in my career.”

“The level of fear expressed by a number of the potential witnesses is a daunting factor in completing this investigation,” investigator Beth Boggs wrote March 2.

On Monday, Kelly tried to read a letter she said she received from someone documenting retaliation for participation in the ethics investigation but was silenced by an 8-2 vote.

Summer Ballentine, The Associated Press


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