The legal trouble surrounding outgoing Governor Eric Greitens may not be over when he vacates the office Friday.
Greitens’ defense attorneys secured a deal with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office to drop a felony computer tampering charge in exchange for his resignation.
But the case in which he was accused of obtaining a donor list without consent and using it for campaign purposes is only one of several legal challenges he’s been facing.
The agreement with the circuit attorney has no bearing on a separate felony invasion of privacy charge that a special prosecutor in Kansas City could bring. A hearing is scheduled for July 2nd in that case.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City alleges that Greitens and his staff violated open records law by using a phone app that destroys text messages.
It was filed by St. Louis area Attorney Mark Pedroli in December, on behalf of fellow attorney Ben Sansone and The Sunshine Project. Pedroli says his ultimate goal to is have the app, known as Confide, barred from use by those in government who are communicating in an official capacity.
“For example, in our case, the office of governor, employees during office hours communicating using Confide, I think should be prohibited,” said Pedroli. “Whether that’s a matter for the legislature or to court or for executive policy, or all three, I think it’s something that we can tackle as a whole.”
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem is expected to determine soon if the governor’s office must identify employees who used the Confide app, on which phones it was used and if a forensic expert will examine those phones.
Judge Beetem also issued a decision this week ordering Greiten’s non-profit 501 (c) (4) organization that conceals the identities of its donors to turn over documents to a special House committee that’s investigating possible impeachment charges or disciplinary action against him.
The organization, A New Missouri Inc., must turn over communications and documents showing potential coordination between it, the governor and the governor’s campaign committee, as well as money it’s spent related to advertising. Pedroli thinks the committee has a golden opportunity to shine a spotlight on the use of dark money in politics.
“There aren’t many subpoenas out on 501 (c) (4)’s that are there involved in dark money contributions like this story in Missouri,” Pedroli said. “This is one big opportunity for the entire country to get, sort of, a clinic on what’s going on in modern elections.”
During the 2016 campaign, Greitens’ campaign received $6 million worth of “dark money” contributions that traveled through nonprofits and into federal political action committees. A New Missouri Inc. donated $500,000 this month to a pro right to work organization that could spend money against a labor-backed ballot measure in the August election
But when Greitens announced his resignation Tuesday, the House committee canceled all its hearings for the week, thus freezing its investigation. The move by Greitens leaves the committee with no purpose as it was charged with investigating and deciding whether to suggest disciplinary measures or submit articles of impeachment to the full House.
The House itself abandoned plans to convene this week. The chamber was set to vote on rules established by the committee that would be in place during a special session on possible impeachment that was called by the legislature when it adjourned for the year from its regular session May 18th.
Neither the legislature nor the House has yet formally called an end to the special session. Pedroli thinks dropping the investigation at this point would be a big mistake.
“Missouri, frankly, through this experience could become a national leader and a beacon to all other states about how we dealt with this issue, and how we reformed the system,” said Petroli. “To drop this subpoena and to drop the investigation, I just think it would be a shame.”
Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, also thinks the legislature should move forward with the probe of the outgoing Republican governor’s nonprofit dark-money operation.
“In order to restore the public trust, the legislature must continue its work into the investigation of coordination between dark-money organizations and state entities,” said Galloway in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“The same special interests that sought to influence the Governor will remain. They will seek opportunities to operate in the shadows and outside scrutiny, all the while working to influence your decisions.”
Galloway also urged lawmakers to pass legislation prohibit secret donations to 501 (c) (4) organizations.