A battle over Governor Eric Greitens’ use of private attorneys to represent his office for possible impeachment proceedings has developed.
Attorney General Josh Hawley addressed a letter to state Auditor Nicole Galloway Friday stating that the Office of Governor lacks authority to retain private impeachment counsel.
He also said the attorneys claiming to represent the office are acting without authority. Hawley’s two-page letter quoted state laws and used previous court decisions, including the tobacco settlement from the early 2000’s to back up his argument.
The Republican attorney general said the lawyers seem focused on advancing the individual interests of fellow GOP member Greitens rather than the Office of the Governor.
Auditor Galloway, a Democrat, has expressed doubt that the Governor’s Office had legal authority to hire private attorneys. Her office sent a letter to the state treasurer and Office of Administration Friday informing them that she’s investigating the matter and questions the use of private lawyers at taxpayer expense.
Galloway’s office asked the state treasurer and Office of Administration to respond to her by Tuesday stating whether they’re processing payments to the lawyers.
Governor Greitens’ spokesperson Parker Briden followed the correspondence from Hawley and Galloway with a public statement Friday, claiming that it’s a long-established fact the governor has the ability to hire private counsel, noting the previous Democratic Governor Jay Nixon had done so.
Briden quoted a state law and referenced a 1938 state Supreme Court case to support his argument.
The state legislature has assembled a special session to consider impeachment of Greitens.
A felony invasion of privacy case against him was recently dropped by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat. Her office has said the charge will be re-filed.
Greitens had been indicted by a grand jury for allegedly taking and transmitting a non-consensual photo of his mistress in 2015 before becoming governor.
He also faces a felony computer tampering charge for allegedly obtaining and transferring a donor list from his former charity without permission for campaign purposes.
A special House committee investigating Greitens is holding a hearing Tuesday to consider and adopt special session rules as well as discuss documents and discovery of facts.
The committee will determine whether to bring articles of impeachment against the governor. It’s also scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.
Last week, the committee heard testimony under oath from the two private attorneys Greitens has hired to represent his office, Washington-based Ross Garber and Edward Greim of the Graves Garrett law firm in Kansas City.
The exchange was at times contentious, especially between the committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Jay Barnes of Jefferson City and Greim.
The two tangled over whether Greitens should be afforded due process in the special session and whether the attorneys would have subpoena power and the right to cross-examine witnesses.
At one point, Barnes presented the lawyers with several hundred pages of documentation from the state’s last high-profile impeachment in which Democratic Secretary of State Judi Moriarty was removed from office in 1994.
Barnes noted that Moriarty was not given due process. Greim countered that her situation was different than that of Greitens because she’d already been convicted of a crime in court at the time she was impeached.
The hearing ended on a somewhat less adversarial tone with Barnes stating that the attorneys would be granted much of what they were asking for.
In his statement Friday, Greitens’ spokesperson Briden stated that presidents (including President Trump) and multitudes of governor’s offices have hired outside attorneys to assist in investigations affecting them. He said the Governor’s Office has the authority to hire counsel to represent the office to defend its interests.
Briden also contended that Attorney General Hawley’s argument that the Governor’s Office attorneys were advancing private interests was factually wrong. He said they’ve attended meetings and interacted with lawyers representing the legislative branch on behalf of the office, not the governor himself.
Briden said the governor’s adversaries would like to deprive his office of counsel just days after the House hired two outside lawyers to represent the committee probing his actions.
Former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward “Chip” Robertson, Jr., and Sedalia attorney Mark Kempton are serving as special counsel to the committee.
In his Friday letter to Auditor Galloway, Attorney General Hawley stated that Greitens lacked the authority to hire a lawyer to represent the Governor’s Office without his consent.
Hawley used a state statute and 1980 court case to support his claim that the hiring of outside counsel would have to be handled through his office.
He said only the legislature could authorize the governor to hire a private attorney at taxpayer expense.
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