Oct 3, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismisses allegations of altered documents in Podiumgate

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivers the Republican response to the State of the Union address in February. Photo: Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said an internal investigation isn't necessary into an allegation that documents were altered or omitted by members of her staff.

Why it matters: The documents were in response to a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the $19,000 lectern paid for by her administration, known widely as Podiumgate.

  • "This is just a group of people looking for something to complain about," she said.

Driving the news: Sanders and state Education Secretary Jacob Oliva spoke with reporters Tuesday after an event at Springdale's Hellstern Middle School to present teacher Michael Tapee with a Milken Educator Award.

Catch up quick: The allegation was made in a letter sent Friday by Rogers lawyer Tom Mars to state Sen. Jimmy Hickey, Jr. (R-Texarkana).

  • Mars said a client who wishes to remain anonymous has "firsthand knowledge" of the alterations and can provide "clear and convincing evidence" to the legislative Joint Audit Committee.
  • Hickey last week asked the committee to investigate the office's purchase of the podium.

How we got here: The seemingly expensive podium came to light as part of a series of Freedom of Information requests made by lawyer and author of the Blue Hog Report, Matt Campbell.

  • Campbell initially sought information about Sanders' travel and expenses but was told they were confidential, so he sued the Arkansas State Police.
  • Soon after, Sanders called an extraordinary legislative session to cut taxes and update the state's FOI law, claiming the need to shield some documents from public view for her security.
  • In response to the proposed bill, Campbell posted receipts he'd already obtained through FOI to X (formerly Twitter).
  • One of those turned out to be for the podium.

The Sanders administration eventually said the payment it made for the lectern was an accounting error. The Republican Party of Arkansas has since reimbursed her office.

The latest: Campbell dismissed the previous lawsuit against the state police due to illness, he told Axios.

  • Yes, but: He filed a second lawsuit Monday alleging that Col. Mike Hagar, director of ASP, withheld records because he believed Campbell wanted them to "embarrass" Sanders.
  • Campbell also filed a motion to temporarily stop the new FOI law from going into effect because lawmakers didn't vote on a separate emergency clause.
  • Without the separate vote, the Act technically isn't law until 90 days after state lawmakers adjourn.

What they're saying: "I agree with Gov. Sanders that an internal investigation of these allegations would be a complete waste of time," Mars said in an email to Axios.

  • "What's needed here is a full-blown law enforcement investigation — not another attempted cover-up by people in the governor's office."

The other side: "We are happy to continue to work with our partners in the Legislature," Sanders said about the Joint Audit Committee meeting Tuesday.

  • "Let them do the audit and get it done as quickly as possible."
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