A Missouri House committee investigating Governor Eric Greitens is made up of five Republicans and two Democrats. The party structure leads some to question whether the panel can be fair and impartial in its probe and recommendations. House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, says the original plan was to have three Republicans and two Democrats but the plan changed without any discussion.
House Speaker Todd Richardson has chosen Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, to chair the panel. Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, will serve as the committee’s vice chair. Phillips is a retired Missouri state trooper. State Reps. Jeanie Lauer of Blue Springs, Kevin Austin of Springfield, and Shawn Rhoads of West Plains are the other three Republicans. Rhoads is a former West Plains Police detective.
The committee’s two Democrats are House Assistant Minority Leader Gina Mitten and Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr. Mitten and Pierson are both St. Louis Democrats. Mitten is an attorney and Pierson is a church pastor.
“We’re putting a whole lot of faith in Representative Barnes that this process is going to be a fair and open process,” McCann Beatty says.
The committee’s investigation centers around the Republican governor allegedly taking a graphic photo of his mistress without her blessing and transferring the image in 2015. A St. Louis city grand jury has indicted Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge.
On the House floor Thursday, Democrats pushed for changes that were not embraced by Barnes. Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, wanted lawmakers to outline the next steps if the committee recommends impeachment. He wanted other plans drafted if the committee decides to go a different route. Merideth suggested the rules be determined prior to the committee’s report being submitted.
“I actually have a great deal of respect for you (Barnes) and trust in you. I do believe that you will proceed fairly in this,” says Merideth. “In your conversation with the Minority Leader, I heard a lot about we just need to trust you and that these members of this committee are very trustworthy, credible, and have high integrity. I’m not here to challenge that but the reality is we all in this body have significant biases. That’s the point of rules. We’re trying to get things in place so that as our biases come out, we are constrained a bit in order to follow rules.”
Barnes opposes the suggestions because he says that’s getting ahead of the process.
“This committee’s job is to look at underlying facts, issue a report about those facts. Those facts may lead to a conclusion over here, may lead to a conclusion over here, it may be somewhat muddled,” says Barnes.
The panel is expected to subpoena Greitens and all other witnesses to testify. Barnes says witness testimony will be closed to the public.
“Everything that a previous witness says would be reported to other potential witnesses. They could come in and that would color their testimony based on what they had heard previous witnesses have said,” says Barnes.
The move is opposed by McCann Beatty. She says the last thing lawmakers need to do is hide behind closed doors.
“I think we are very cognizant of the fact that there is one witness that we would like to protect. That is what we have said all along. We do not want to put the victim, so to speak, on trial. We weren’t trying to say everything needs to be out there,” says McCann Beatty.
The panel hopes to finish its investigation in 40 days and submit its recommendations to the full House.