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Missouri Speaker Dean Plocher mum on allegations he obstructed ethics probe

House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, gives a thumbs up on Friday, May 12, 2023, before the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City, Mo.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, gives a thumbs up on the last day of the 2023 legislative session in Jefferson City.

The embattled speaker of the Missouri House had little to say over the weekend in his first public comments since being accused of threatening potential witnesses and other stall tactics aimed at obstructing an ethics committee inquiry into his alleged misconduct.

Speaker Dean Plocher sat down for an interview released on Sunday with Scott Faughn, one of his most vocal supporters and the owner of an online compendium of press releases and opinion pieces called The Missouri Times.

Since late last year, Plocher has faced an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, as well as calls for his resignation, over his unsuccessful push for the House to sign an $800,000 contract with a private software company outside the normal bidding process; alleged threats of retaliation against nonpartisan legislative staff who raised red flags about that contract; purportedly firing a potential whistleblower; and filing years of false expense reports for travelalready paid for by his campaign.

Last Monday, a report documenting the investigation was made public that admonished Plocher for “absolute obstruction” that hindered the committee’s efforts to get to the truth.

In his Sunday interview, Plocher said little about the inquiry, as every time he began answering questions about it Faughn would interrupt to lob insults at the committee and the process. Other than thanking his wife for her support as scandals swirl around him, the closest Plocher came to commenting was when he once again declared that he felt the investigation took too long.

“This committee should have resolved itself in November or December,” Plocher said.

The interview appeared to be recorded Thursday, the same day Plocher stormed out of a press conference after reporters asked him about the ethics committee report.

“I’m shutting this down,” Plocher declared after two questions. “You guys don’t get it.”

Days before abruptly ending the press conference, the ethics committee voted to reject a report recommending a formal letter of disapproval for Plocher, that he hire an accounting professional to manage his expense reports moving forward and that he refrain from retaliation against any legislator or House employee who cooperated with the committee.

The report also suggested further review by the House into allegations of threats made against legislative employees during the course of the investigation.

State Rep. Hannah Kelly, a Mountain View Republican who was appointed last year by Plocher as chair of the ethics committee, said the speaker threatened witnesses and created a “culture of fear and retaliation” that undermined the investigation.

Public records included in the draft report revealed that while Plocher and his allies were condemning the investigation for dragging out too long, behind the scenes the speaker was causing the delays by refusing to speak to an attorney hired to collect evidence and repeatedly refusing to sign subpoenas to compel hesitant witnesses to come forward.

The speaker wasn’t asked any questions about alleged obstruction during the interview released Sunday.

Plocher is running for the GOP nomination for Missouri secretary of state. He currently leads his seven Republican opponents by a wide margin in fundraising, with more than $1.3 million cash on hand between his campaign account and allied political action committee.

But nearly all of that was raised before the litany of scandals became public last fall that have dominated his last year as speaker of the Missouri House.

After taking in nearly $400,000 for his campaign and PAC in 2023, he raised just $15,000 this year.

This story was originally published by The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Jason Hancock is a reporter covering politics and policy for The Missouri Independent.