MU law professor, legal experts blast Hawley for Capitol riot

Roger McKinney
Columbia Daily Tribune
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley speaks to a Pachyderms breakfast at the Missouri GOP's Lincoln Days on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at University Plaza Hotel. Austin Huguelet/Springfield News-Leader

Local attorneys and a legal scholar say the takeover of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters is the responsibility of the president and his allies in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley.

"It was a horrifying and shocking intrusion on the democratic process, plainly incited by the president of the United States," said Frank Bowman.

A Curators Distinguished Professor in the University of Missouri Law School, Bowman is author of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump."

The MU law school's Student Bar Association has issued a statement calling for Hawley, a former professor there, resign for his role in what it termed an attempted coup.

"In his relentless pursuit of power, Senator Hawley, a Yale-educated attorney, furthered President Trump's baseless election irregularity claims and committed sedition against the United States of America," the statement reads.

With no likelihood of succeeding with his objections, Hawley did succeed "at inspiring a moment of insurrection resulting in the loss of at least one American life, not to mention the irreparable harm to our nation at large.

"As he walked into the U.S. Capitol building earlier today to object to a free and fair election, Senator Hawley raised a fist in solidarity with insurrectionists who would soon illegally occupy the building and who would seek to rip the Constitution to shreds. He should resign immediately," the statement, issued Wednesday, concludes.

Bowman called Trump "mentally unstable" and said Hawley bares a substantial amount of the blame because unlike the president, he knows the law. 

Hawley objected to the election results in Pennsylvania.

"Josh's claim, remarkably, is it's not the job of the state of Pennsylvania or even the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine the election results, but the job of a Missouri U.S. senator," Bowman said.

Hawley is trying to outflank potential rivals to inherit the Trump base for the 2024 presidential nomination, Bowman said.

"The cynicism of his actions cannot be over-exaggerated," Bowman said. "I defy him to say otherwise. I invite him to come back to Columbia, to the law school, to defend what he has done. But he won't."

The photo of Hawley with a raised fist salute encouraged those who took over the Capitol, Bowman said, adding that he agrees with a Kansas City Star editorial that Hawley has blood on his hands.

Those who organized the takeover could reasonably be charged with seditious conspiracy under U.S. law, Bowman said. Trespass, assault and other charges could be filed.

The organizers were convinced by people that they trust — including Trump, Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz — that the election was stolen

"The only reason these dangerously delusional people think it's true is that Donald Trump and others encouraged them," Bowman said.

While Trump's mental stability is in question, Bowman said Hawley, Cruz and others know better.

"Those are the people who are really responsible," Bowman said of Trump's allies. "Those are the real arsonists of democracy."

Hawley issued a statement Thursday afternoon without responding to any of the specific criticisms.

“I will never apologize for giving voice to the millions of Missourians and Americans who have concerns about the integrity of our elections," Hawley wrote. "That’s my job, and I will keep doing it.”

MU Law School Dean Lyrissa Lidsky used Twitter to express her opinion on Wednesday.

"As a #FirstAmendment lawyer, I view these events as a failure of reasoned public discourse as an antidote to political violence. As a lawyer, I view them as a threat to the rule of law. As an educator, I view them as a failure of civic education. As a patriot, I pray for us," Lidsky tweeted

In a phone interview, Lidsky said Wednesday was an act of political violence designed to overturn the results of a legitimate election.

"Peaceful protest is protected by the First Amendment, but violence obviously is not," Lidsky said.

She declined to place blame, saying instead healing was needed.

"I really hope that in the wake of these events we can start to repair the public discourse," she said. "As a First Amendment lawyer, I have great faith in reasoned public discourse in a democracy. We all have a responsibility to come together to heal. Because today, we're very divided. We need to avoid hyperbole and be careful of the language we use in public discourse."

One should rely on truth, evidence and facts, but not blindly lash out at those we assume to be political opponents, she said.

Columbia attorney Stephen Wyse said when he was a military policeman in the Army, he was trained to handle riots with rifles with unsheathed bayonets attached.

Such a response would have deterred Wednesday's rioters, he said. Instead, some Capitol Police officers took selfies with the intruders.

It was reasonable to expect and prepare for possible violence, but there was no preparation, Wyse said. The Capitol Police have the ability to mobilize other agencies.

"They could have had significant reinforcement, a wall to keep the protesters away," Wyse said.

President Trump is primarily to blame for the situation, with Hawley as the second most responsible person, he said.

"You can lay the responsibility of this riot squarely at the feet of President Trump," Wyse said. Trump at a rally Wednesday morning urged his supporters to go to the Capitol.

"I think that as clean an example of inciting a riot as I have seen," Wyse said. "I've never before seen a president incite a riot."

The 25th Amendment should be invoked to remove Trump from office, he said. It allows the vice president and cabinet to declare the president unable to fulfill his duties.

It's unnerving that Trump has access to the nuclear command, he said.

"I'm saddened beyond description to see my country dragged through this chaos," Wyse said. "It's such an embarrassment."

The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys issued a statement supporting the position of the National District Attorneys Association condemning the undemocratic actions. The NDAA statement said the rule of law had been "ignored, flaunted and violated."

"Our members recognize and uphold the right of American citizens to peacefully protest," the statement reads

Some dramatic terms have been used for the takeover, including coup and insurrection, said Columbia attorney Andy Hirth. Some of them are appropriate, he said.

"The seat of government was overrun," he said. "It's hard to see it as anything other than an insurrection."

The action was spurred on by Trump and allies, including Hawley, Hirth said. The result was easy to foresee.

Hawley is smarter than Trump, Hirth said.

"There is no way he actually believes there is any widespread voter fraud," Hirth said of Hawley. "It's a cynical, craven attempt for the 2024 presidential nomination. He sent out a fundraising letter as the siege was occurring. It's unconscionable."

The police response was different based on the skin color of those participating, Hirth said. While there was a heavy response of police and military to mostly peaceful protests by supporters of Black Lives Matter in Washington, D.C., in June, the police response to violent white rioters on Wednesday was lacking.

If Black people has assaulted the Capitol, hundreds would be shot, Hirth said.

"It is a great example of white privilege that purported protesters can gain armed entry into the seat of government and not expect to be even arrested for it," Hirth said.

He is sad, he said.

"You can't constantly throw gasoline on a fire and not expect an explosion," he said., 573-815-1719