Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem heard arguments Thursday in a petition by Governor Eric Greitens defense team seeking a temporary restraining order.
Attorney Jim Bennett asked for an injunction blocking Attorney General Josh Hawley from investigating Greitens over his alleged use of a donor list from his former charity.
The petition also asks Judge Beetem to appoint a special prosecutor to review felony computer tampering charges for acquiring the list without permission.
Hawley’s office launched an investigation into the matter in March. Bennett objects to Hawley’s April 11th statements on a government website in which the attorney general called on Greitens to resign immediately and referred to allegations in a House special committee report as “certainly impeachable”.
He called those comments and a statement during an April 17th press conference describing potential criminal violations by Greitens “extrajudicial”.
Bennet claimed Hawley is being swayed by politics after first properly declining to comment on the issue. He said Hawley’s comments would play much differently on the national stage.
“If you had the Attorney General of the United States, for example, Mr. Sessions, announce ‘I believe the President should resign. I believe that the President should be impeached…and, oh, by the way, I’m going to use my powers as attorney general to investigate matters,’ I think that we would all think that that should be a recusal and an appointment of a special prosecutor,” said Bennett.
Hawley’s First Assistant Attorney General John Sauer represented him before Judge Beetem. He said the petition stretches legal authority and called its request to remove Hawley and appoint a special prosecutor an extraordinary and intrusive remedy.
He called Hawley’s statements measured and said the attorney general has an official rather than a personal interest in the investigation.
“If a lawyer conducting an investigation looks at the evidence and concludes that there is probable cause to believe that someone committed some kind of crime, that doesn’t disqualify that lawyer from serving as a prosecutor,” said Sauer. “It qualifies that lawyer to do that!”
He pointed out that Hawley’s public comments have concerned the first felony charge that he has no involvement with. Greitens is accused of criminal physical assault and sexual coercion of a woman with whom he was having an affair in 2015.
Both Bennett and Sauer used Missouri legal cases to back up their arguments.
Sauer claimed there’s a lengthy list of cases pertaining to the disqualification of prosecutors which recognizes that when there’s no relation between the two proceedings, a prosecutor can investigate one case even if there’s a personal involvement that would disqualify him/her in the other proceeding.
Bennett mentioned that he understood that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has asked Hawley to be the special prosecutor if she’s disqualified from the case involving the donor list.
Greitens attorneys filed Monday seeking Gardner’s disqualification, claiming she has a special interest in the case after the judge in the first felony case determined she had committed sanctionable rules violations during those proceedings. If this scenario were to play out, Hawley would be prosecuting the case in which he called the governor’s actions “very impeachable.
Bennett also noted that there’s no public statement’s being made that Hawley’s comments about Greitens are divorced from his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat.
Judge Beetem concluded the hearing after roughly 40 minutes. He’s expected to issue a ruling late Thursday or Friday.