Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has some ‘splaining to do. New public records have been released concerning “Podiumgate,” and they raise new questions about the timeline surrounding the Arkansas governor’s office spending nearly $20,000 of taxpayer money on a lectern. Specifically, the evidence shows that a note saying “to be reimbursed” was added to the original invoice in September—months after the purchase. Who exactly asked that the note be added remains a mystery.
Sanders' office purchased the $19,029.25 lectern in June using a government credit card (that had to have its limit raised in order to make the purchase). When the Arkansas Times asked Sanders about this in September, a spokesperson for the governor first claimed the number was an “accounting error,” and then later said that the Arkansas GOP was going to be reimbursing the state for the purchase.
However, this new evidence supports the claims made weeks ago by a whistleblower, who alleged the governor’s office had manipulated public documents—a Class D felony in Arkansas—connected to the podium’s purchase. The whistleblower also claimed to have evidence that Sanders’ office obstructed Freedom of Information Act requests concerning the lectern.
RELATED STORY: As ‘Podiumgate’ roils Arkansas, governor’s office accused of criminal cover-up
Last week, Sanders told reporters that Podiumgate was nothing more than people trying to “manufacture a controversy where there isn’t one,” adding, “this is something the state’s been reimbursed for.” Of course, that isn’t exactly what the timeline seems to show.
According to the Associated Press, Sanders’ executive assistant and office manager, Laura Hamilton, added the dubious “reimbursement” note, but exactly who asked Hamilton to add it to the months-old invoice is unknown. In a Sept. 15 email “written by Department of Transformation and Shared Services employee Cassie Cantlon,” Cantlon refers to the incomplete information on the note—almost as if whoever asked for it to be added wanted to omit the date for some strange reason.
“I asked if she wanted to date the note and she stated that she was told not to date it, but to just make the note that the invoice was to be reimbursed,” Cantlon, administrative services manager for the department, wrote in the email.
Sanders’ office acknowledged Tuesday that the note was added, but did not say who told Hamilton to add it.
In an interesting twist, the whistleblower’s attorney, Tom Mars, served as director of the Arkansas State Police under former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is the current governor’s father. This conservative pedigree throws a bit of a wrench into Sanders’ claims of manufactured “controversy.”
Republican state Sen. Jimmy Hickey has called for an audit of the purchase due to a new law Sanders signed off on limiting public requests for travel and security information.
Members of the Legislative Audit Committee are scheduled to meet and decide on Hickey’s request Thursday, Oct. 12.
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