There’s no denying that Josh Hawley is an ambitious, ladder-climbing politician.

As a newly elected state attorney general, Hawley’s business cards were still in the print shop when he started answering questions about a run for U.S. Senate. Democrats were quick to point that out, and they haven’t stopped pointing it out since the Republican unseated incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in the Senate campaign.

A wandering political eye is fair game for the opposition, something for voters to consider when weighing the motives and potential effectiveness of a candidate. But is it a crime to always be striving for higher office? We would say no. We would say that the Missouri state auditor’s 450-page report also fails to make that case.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s staff, following a complaint from a liberal nonprofit group, examined whether Hawley used state resources for political purposes during his tenure as attorney general from 2017 to 2019. The report, released last Thursday, paints a picture of a politician who raised eyebrows with the mixing of campaign consultants who serve a political purpose and paid attorney general staffers with an administrative function.

It all sounds enticing, but the findings are laced with maybes, what ifs, questionable meetings and possible appearances of impropriety. Galloway sums it up in the conclusions regarding paid consultants, a key part of the audit.

“While the interactions between the campaign paid consultants and government officials described in this report give an appearance of impropriety, we cannot conclude that any laws were violated.”

The audit was initiated to determine if Hawley, as attorney general, used public resources — either money or vehicles — for personal or political uses. The audit uncovers neither, only instances of poor documentation and a troubling use of private servers and text messaging for business that may or may not be considered government work.

In the use of state vehicles, the audit travels a similar path of identifying something that smells bad, including a trip to a Chiefs football game under the guise of state business. Here, Hawley’s explanations are about as thin as the audit’s conclusions. If Hawley is truly looking to move up in the political sphere, he would be wise to consider any reimbursement for past trips that raise legitimate questions.

But for Hawley’s opponents, the goal wasn’t to find things that look bad to but to identify a smoking gun. What we got, instead, is a very faint whiff of cordite.

Hawley has no reason to apologize, but he should get used to the odor as he continues to climb the political ladder.