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Sarah Huckabee Sanders faces investigation for $19,000 lectern and ‘hidden’ public records

A whistleblower in Arkansas is accusing the state's governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, of improperly altering and refusing to release records at a time when her office is being investigated for its spending.

Tom Mars, the attorney representing the whistleblower, is reportedly seeking a legislative audit of the governor, according to a letter he sent to state Representative Jimmy Hickey on Friday. The letter also said the whistleblower would be willing to give testimony, according to the Arkansas Times.

Mr Hickey and the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee began investigating a purchase she made for her office. The governor of the seventh poorest state in the US reportedly purchased a $19,000 lectern, sparking blowback on social media, according to the Arkansas Advocate.

Arkansas’ median income for an individual in 2020 was a little more than $27,000, according to the US Census Bureau.

Mr Hickey has also asked the committee to investigate records that were retroactively removed from the public record after Ms Sanders signed a bill changing the way FOIA works in the state.

Mr Mars' letter claims the whistleblower can "provide clear and convincing evidence" that Ms Sanders' office actually altered and failed to release public records requested by Matt Campbell, an attorney and writer who runs the Blue Hog Report.

Mr Campbell requested the documents a few weeks ago as a part of his own investigation into Ms Sanders' use of the Arkansas State Police's airplane for in-state travel. He has also been probing her office's spending and the purchase of the lectern.

The whistleblower claims that members of Ms Sanders' staff altered a FOIA document's meaning and directed a state agency not to provide it to Mr Campbell, and that they withheld other documents that would provide insight into the office's purchases on Amazon.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been accused of withholding and tampering with public records by an alleged whistleblower (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been accused of withholding and tampering with public records by an alleged whistleblower (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Ms Sanders' staff also allegedly removed email threads that could be accessed via FOIA and communicated with a state agency via unmonitored backchannels, according to the whistleblower.

The Independent reached out to Ms Sanders' communications director, Alexa Henning for comment. Ms Henning is among those named by the whistleblower as participating in the alleged FOIA violations.

“The state was reimbursed for the podium with private funding raised for the inauguration, and the governor welcomes the audit and encourages legislators to complete it without delay,” Ms Sanders’ office told The Independent. “This is nothing more than a manufactured controversy by left wing activists.”

If Ms Sanders' office is found to be in violation of FOIA laws, staffers — or the governor — could face both misdemeanor and felony charges for violating the law and tampering with public records, respectively.