The House committee hearings on Governor Eric Greitens possible impeachment have reached a level of hostility few of its participants had expected.
The behavior of two key witnesses last week was roundly criticized by committee members while Greitens defense lawyers have complained of unprecedented poor treatment by the committee’s chairman, Republican Representative Jay Barnes of Jefferson City.
It’s now not known if the governor will testify after being subpoenaed last week to appear on Monday, June 4. Dowd Bennett Attorney Michele Nasser, who attended Friday’s hearing as an observer in place of lead defense lawyer Ed Dowd, wouldn’t say if Greitens will field questions from the committee.
The defense team is fuming over rules which don’t allow it to cross-examine witnesses during hearings in which the panel headed by Barnes will determine whether disciplinary measures or articles of impeachment against Greitens will be brought to the full House.
Nasser released a statement late Friday night in which she complained about being shut out of a closed session of the committee, contending her understanding of the rules allowed her to be present. She said Barnes reacted by threatening to call the sergeant-at-arms to forcibly remove her if she insisted on staying.
Nasser characterized documents introduced in the open hearing by a new committee member as exculpatory evidence (favorable to the defendant) that the committee should have already received from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s after it dropped criminal charges against Greitens.
The St. Louis based defense team chose Springfield Republican Representative Curtis Trent to introduce documents that were ultimately rejected by the committee as being “cherry-picked” evidence.
In her statement, Nasser claimed the committee’s actions do not represent a fair process designed to get to the truth and accused Chairman Barnes of having questionable associations with material witnesses like Scott Faughn that “should concern us all”.
Another new member of the committee, Democratic Representative Greg Razer of Kansas City, said the testimony of Faughn and Attorney Al Watkins last week angered him.
“We have had testimony in here from a self-proclaimed hillbilly from Butler County,” said Razer. “We have had another attorney whose language was so colorful that I had to speak up yesterday.” While Razer spoke, Barnes interjected that Faughn had “lied the whole time.”
Faughn was subpoenaed to appear before the committee after it became known that he paid Watkins what totaled $120,000. Faughn said the payment was for access to a secret recording made by the ex-husband of a woman central to accusations against Greitens.
On the recording, the unnamed woman tells her now ex-husband that Greitens took a nonconsensual photo of her while undressed, bound and blindfolded and threatened to distribute the photo if she mentioned their encounter. Faughn said he wanted to use the recording as part of research for a book he was writing about Greitens and said Watkins demanded payment in cash.
The next day Watkins gave testimony vastly different from Faughn, claiming Faughn intended $100,000 of the total to cover legal expenses for the ex-husband. Watkins also said he contacted the FBI over the cash payments that he thought could have been illegally obtained.
The allegations against Greitens led to a felony invasion of privacy charge in St. Louis that was dropped but could be refiled in Kansas City where a court date has been set for July 2nd.
The documents Representative Trent attempted to introduce were excerpts of a forensics expert’s examination of the phones of the ex-husband and the woman.
The expert had also examined the cell phone of Greitens in search of the photo he’s alleged to have taken. He did not locate the photo but said his findings don’t mean such a photo doesn’t exist.
As the committee rejected the documents, Chairman Barnes brought up several examples of cherry-picked evidence that the panel had unanimously agreed was misleading or wrong.
Among them was a claim by the defense that the woman’s pretrial testimony in St. Louis indicated that she dreamed up the encounter with Greitens. The committee has concluded that the woman simply said she did not remember seeing a phone, but that nothing else she said was in the nature of a dream.
Republican Representative J. Eggleston of Maysville, who’s also a new member of the committee, said another misleading piece of evidence was a set of pornographic bondage photos the defense claimed could be of the woman. The committee rejected those photos last week after determining in a closed session that they clearly were not images of the woman.
Chairman Barnes said the committee would move forward with or without the testimony of Governor Greitens and determine what findings it will send to the full House.
Friday, Representative Gina Mitten of St. Louis, the ranking Democrat on the committee, called the level of animosity during the hearings unprecedented in her six years in the legislature. She also expressed irritation with the defense team’s refusal to release evidence.
“At the time that we made a personal decision to perform this public service, I don’t believe any member of this committee ever thought they would be involved in the shenanigans that we’re being thrust upon right now,” Mitten said.
Republican Representative Don Phillips of Kimberling City is a committee member who spent 28 years as a Missouri State Trooper. He noted he’s interrogated hundreds of witnesses over the years and thinks the refusal of the defense to hand over evidence in the case means one thing.
It’s always been my observance that those that don’t have anything to hide are more than willing to speak with you,” said Phillips. “Those that do have something to hide are very reluctant to speak to you.”
Tuesday the committee will hear from political strategist Michael Hafner, an early advisor to Greitens. The scheduling signals a shift in focus by the committee from Greitens relationship with the woman to accusations he misused a donor list.
He faces a felony computer tampering charge in St. Louis for obtaining the donor list of his former charity without permission and using it for campaign purposes. That case has been delayed pending the outcome of a grand jury investigation.