Hawley calls for civil rights probe of prosecutor investigating gun-wielding St. Louis couple

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE (R-Mo.) called on the Justice Department to launch a civil rights investigation into St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner and her office after Gardner announced an investigation into a white couple who were seen on video threatening Black Lives Matter protesters at gunpoint.

In a letter to the Justice Department obtained by The Washington Post, Hawley said that Gardner had established "a pattern of politically motivated prosecutorial decisions" during her time as St. Louis's top city prosecutor.

"The Second Amendment is not a second-class right. No family should face the threat of harassment or malicious prosecution for exercising that right," he wrote to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrBarr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event Virginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' MORE.

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“This is an unacceptable abuse of power and threat to the Second Amendment,” he added in the letter. “I urge you to consider a federal civil rights investigation into the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office to determine whether this investigation and impending prosecution violates this family’s constitutional right.”

Gardner responded to Hawley in a statement to the Post, accusing Hawley of harboring racist motivations for his letter.

“This is a dog whistle of racist rhetoric and cronyism politics,” she told the newspaper. “Senator Hawley, who believes in the Constitution, is usurping the will of the voters. I thought the Republican Party was all about states’ rights and local control. What happened?”

Gardner has previously faced criticism from Missouri's governor and President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE, both Republicans, for her decision to launch an investigation into the couple, who were widely criticized on social media after being seen pointing guns at unarmed protesters. No charges have yet been filed against the couple.

The protests were part of demonstrations that have continued across the U.S. for weeks in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. One white officer was fired and charged with second-degree murder for Floyd's death. Three other officers on the scene were also fired and charged.

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Trump has defended the couple and criticized Gardner, though not by name.

Gardner responded to that criticism on Wednesday, contending in a statement released on Twitter that the president and governor both "came after me for doing my job and investigating a case."

"While they continue to play politics with the handling of this matter, spreading misinformation and distorting the truth, I refuse to do so," Gardner added Wednesday.