Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley held an “update” Friday morning on his office’s investigation into connections between Governor Eric Greitens’ campaign and his former nonprofit.
The gathering with reporters may have been as much about Hawley trying to publicly apply pressure to those subpoenaed, or about to be subpoenaed, to cooperate with the probe.
While saying he was pleased both with individuals who had responded to subpoenas and with the evidence gathered so far, he issued a direct message to people who may not be cooperating.
“I would strongly counsel those who have or will receive a subpoena from this office to cooperate fully, to comply fully and promptly with this office’s subpoenas,” said Hawley. “And I remind them that failure to do so is itself a separate criminal violation under Missouri statutes.”
After being stymied in a previous investigation of Greitens in which he had no authority to compel witnesses, Hawley noted that he’d issued 15 subpoenas related to the current investigation.
He declined to say whether he’d issued a subpoena to Greitens and refused to identify any of the 15 people who’d already been compelled to appear before him. Hawley said that revealing names of people subpoenaed or elaborating on further activity could compromise his ability to gather evidence in the investigation.
Hawley did say his office had subpoenaed current and former members of three groups – The Mission Continues, The Greitens Group and Greitens For Missouri.
Documents from the nonprofit the Mission Continues have been subpoenaed from three teams looking into Greitens’ activities – Hawley’s office, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office and the Missouri House Special Committee on Oversight.
Hawley told reporters Friday that he’d reached out to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to tell her that his office stands ready to assist her office as needed and said the two teams had already been working together.
Hawley is a Republican attorney general investigating a fellow GOP member in Governor Greitens. Circuit Attorney Gardner is a Democrat who has served in the state legislature.
Hawley launched his probe into connections between Greitens and his former nonprofit more than three weeks ago, shortly after dropping an inquiry into his staff’s use of the Confide app which erases text messages after they’re completed.
The subpoenas from the circuit attorney and house committee indicate an expansion of investigations previously centered on felony invasion of privacy charges against the governor.
Hawley said Friday the scope of his investigation could also be enlarged, saying “We will follow the facts wherever they go.”
Although the subpoenas have all been recent, the controversy surrounding Greitens’ use of Mission Continues resources dates back to October 2016 when the AP reported his campaign had received $2 million in contributions from individuals or entities that also had given heavily to the Mission Continues.
The Mission Continues is a nonprofit (c)(3) organization, which is not allowed to engage in political campaign activity. After initially denying he used the nonprofit’s donor list, Greitens admitted his campaign received a copy of the list while settling a complaint filed with the ethics commission by Democrats.
The campaign was penalized $1,000 by the ethics commission but only required to pay $100.
After being slammed for conducting what Democrats called a “sham” investigation into Greitens and his staff’s use of the Confide app, Hawley expressed the need to change the sunshine law that offers him no subpoena authority.
“This is the call for subpoena authority for this office, for tougher penalties for knowing violations of the sunshine law,” said Hawley. “There is no reason not to act right now on those things. I think that it’s probably past time to give the sunshine law and its substantive provisions a close look and think about how it should be updated.”
In his investigation of the Confide app, Hawley found no wrongdoing under the state’s Sunshine Law and Records Retention Policy.
He praised Republican Representatives David Gregory of St. Louis and Jean Evans of Manchester who are introducing legislation Monday that would give the attorney general authority under the Sunshine Law and would also strengthen Sunshine Law penalties for violations.
Democrats have slammed Hawley for not even trying interview to Greitens during the Confide investigation. The probe was handled by Deputy Counsel Darrell Moore in the attorney general’s office. He said last week that Greitens’ staff indicated they could use executive privilege to block any discussion about the Confide app with the attorney general’s office.
Hawley said having subpoena power would go a long way in dashing claims of executive privilege.
“We have subpoena power under Chapter 407 of Missouri statute, something that we did not have, and do not have in the sunshine context,” Hawley said. “We need subpoena power in the sunshine context, which gives us the power to actually compel people to cooperate, even if they don’t want to.”
Hawley said that if his office found violations by Greitens in the Mission Continues investigation, both criminal and civil penalties would be available for punishment. He didn’t elaborate on how severe those penalties would be.