Top GOP Lawmakers Urge Missouri GOP Governor to Resign Amid New Accusations

by | April 18, 2018

By Jack Suntrup

Leaders in Missouri's GOP-controlled House issued a stinging rebuke of Republican Gov. Eric Greitens on Tuesday evening, calling on the state's chief executive to resign as scandals continue to consume his administration.

"Leaders at all levels of government are entrusted with an incredible responsibility to the Missourians we represent," said a joint statement from House Speaker Todd Richardson, House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo and House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr. "When leaders lose the ability to effectively lead our state, the right thing to do is step aside. In our view, the time has come for the governor to resign."

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin issued a similar statement, saying the governor should step aside. If he doesn't, Richard said, "it is my wish that we immediately start impeachment proceedings."

The governor responded on Twitter, saying he would not resign. "In three weeks, this matter will go to a court of law _ where it belongs and where the facts will prove my innocence," he said. "Until then, I will do what the people of Missouri sent me here to do: to serve them and work hard on their behalf."

The statements, issued Tuesday evening, followed a Tuesday morning announcement by Attorney General Josh Hawley who said that his office had uncovered evidence that Greitens may have committed a felony by using a charity donor list to solicit donations to fuel his 2016 campaign for governor.

Hawley, who like Greitens is a Republican, said his office found evidence that Greitens obtained and transmitted a donor list without the permission of the St. Louis-based charity The Mission Continues, which Greitens founded in 2007 but left in 2014.

"If proven, these acts could amount to the unauthorized taking and use of property, in this case, electronic property," Hawley said at a news conference. "Under Missouri law, this is known as computer tampering. And given the value of the list in question, it is a felony."

The developments add to the cascade of problems Greitens faces as he struggles to maintain legitimacy. Greitens has refused calls to resign, even after a Missouri House committee released an extraordinary report last week containing allegations of violence and sexual misconduct against Greitens.

One of Greitens' attorneys, Jim Martin, said that a "thorough review" by Greitens' legal team had concluded "there's no wrongdoing here."

"The attorney general held a completely frivolous and inappropriate press conference on a non-issue," Martin said in a statement.

Hawley said his office could not prosecute Greitens for the alleged digital tampering, but that jurisdiction rests with local prosecutors, in this case St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat.

"The deadline for the statute of limitations is fast approaching," Hawley said. "A charging decision must be made very soon. ... Yesterday, my office secured court permission to share all evidence we have collected with the circuit attorney's office in St. Louis."

The statute of limitations in the case expires Sunday.

Hawley said his team had also shared evidence with the GOP-led House committee investigating Greitens.

In a statement, Susan Ryan, spokeswoman for Gardner's office, said circuit attorney staffers met with the attorney general's staff on Monday.

"The AG's team provided information they have gathered to us, and we are reviewing the evidence," Ryan said. "We can't discuss any specifics at this time, as the investigation is ongoing."

The law Hawley referenced is a statute that prohibits "tampering with computer data." It makes it a crime if anyone accesses a computer network without authorization and "discloses or takes a password, identifying code, personal identification number, or other confidential information about a computer system or network that is intended to ... control access to the computer system or network."

Other violations include modifying, altering or receiving personal information.

The offense is a Class A misdemeanor, "unless the offense is committed for the purpose of devising or executing any scheme or artifice to defraud or to obtain any property" worth $500 or more. In that case, it becomes a Class E felony.

Greitens took aim at Hawley on Tuesday, saying he's "better at press conferences than the law." He blasted Hawley for turning over evidence to Gardner. Greitens' legal team has accused her of withholding evidence and committing perjury.

His legal team has also attempted to tie Gardner to liberal megadonor George Soros, who contributed to her campaign.

"Anyone who has set foot in a Missouri courtroom knows these allegations are ridiculous," Greitens said, without specifying how they were ridiculous. "We will dispense with these false allegations."

Hawley announced an investigation last month after a string of news reports raised questions about Greitens' cozy relationship to his former charity. Hawley said on March 23 that he had subpoenaed 15 current or former staffers of The Mission Continues. The attorney general's office also subpoenaed Greitens through The Greitens Group, the company Greitens established to coordinate his book sales, Hawley announced recently.

On Tuesday, Hawley said his office had not spoken with Greitens.

Hawley, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., this year, also called on Greitens to resign last week after the House committee report's release.

On Monday, Greitens' attorney, Ed Dowd, asked Hawley to recuse himself from investigating the embattled chief executive, saying in a news release that the attorney general's statement "compromises the AGO's own ongoing investigation of Gov. Greitens."

Hawley refused. His office said Hawley was reacting to allegations of "egregious sexual misconduct," adding that "the Attorney General's investigation into The Mission Continues does not address those allegations."

Even before this week, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office had been investigating The Mission Continues, as is the Missouri House committee. Last week, Laura L'Esperance, spokeswoman for the charity, said that it is cooperating with all three probes and that "we're looking forward to the completion of their efforts."

L'Esperance reiterated in a statement Tuesday that the charity did not authorize Greitens to use the list to solicit political donations.

"We have said from the beginning, as an organization, we completely abstain from any and all political activities," she said.

Hawley's announcement came the day after the Missouri Democratic Party unveiled a new web ad slamming Hawley for what the party alleges is foot-dragging in his office's investigation of Greitens.

Hawley on Tuesday batted away the suggestion that his announcement was driven by a desire to nullify that criticism. "I'm doing my job," he said.

Hawley's spokewoman said Tuesday that his office did not investigate the charity until the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in February that a former charity staffer emailed the donor list to Greitens' campaign staffers in early 2015. The office has jurisdiction over charitable matters, but not over the data tampering allegations raised on Tuesday, she said.

Hawley is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate this year, where McCaskill is widely considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats in the country. State and national Democrats have been hammering at Hawley in an attempt to soften up the threat he could pose in November.

The Associated Press first reported that Greitens may have used the charity list in October 2016.

At the time, Greitens was locked in a heated campaign with then-Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat. Greitens had raised $2 million from donors who had also given generously to The Mission Continues, the AP reported, but he denied using a donor list to solicit any money.

Still, Democrats filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission accusing Greitens of receiving an in-kind campaign contribution without reporting it on campaign disclosure forms.

Greitens and his campaign settled the complaint with the ethics commission in April 2017. The campaign was fined $100 and put on a two-year probationary period.

Former Greitens campaign workers say they and others were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.

As part of the settlement, the campaign revised its filings to show that Danny Laub, Greitens' first campaign manager, donated the list to the campaign on March 1, 2015. The in-kind contribution was valued at $600.

Greitens never said how Laub obtained the list. The Mission Continues has said that it did not authorize use of the list or supply it to the Greitens campaign. Doing so would jeopardize the charity's tax-exempt status.

The Post-Dispatch revealed in February that one of Greitens' employees at The Greitens Group, Krystal Taylor, forwarded The Mission Continues' donor list to Laub and another staffer, Michael Hafner, on Jan. 6, 2015 _ nearly two months before the campaign had said.

The revelation sparked a new round of reports regarding Greitens' ties to his former charity, including his use of a charity email address to arrange political meetings and his apparent use of a charity email list to promote his political aspirations and hawk at least one of his books.

Roy Temple, the former chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, subsequently filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission accusing Greitens of lying on his amended filings by stating Laub was the list donor, when the list in fact came from someone else.

He also accused Greitens of violating the ethics commission's probation by failing to report receipt of the charity email list, which could be considered another in-kind contribution.

Greitens' defense attorneys have sought to depose Temple in relation to the governor's felony invasion-of-privacy charge, suggesting he may have paid Greitens' accuser or others involved in the case.

Joseph Bednar, a lawyer for Temple, filed a motion Monday seeking to quash a subpoena to question Temple, arguing that he is not a party to the case and has no knowledge of what happened in the governor's basement in March 2015.

Temple has previously acknowledged that, as state Democratic Party chairman before the election, he talked to the woman's ex-husband to try to get him to go public with his ex-wife's allegations about Greitens.

Temple has said that he dropped the matter after the ex-husband refused to talk publicly. When the ex-husband did go public early this year, he provided information directly to the Post-Dispatch and other area media, with no apparent involvement from Temple.

Albert Watkins, the ex-husband's attorney, has rejected the claim Temple ever paid him or his client to get the story out. In an affidavit attached to his filing, Temple said he had not "made any payment of any kind" to the accuser, her ex-husband or Watkins.

(Kevin McDermott, Kurt Erickson, Robert Patrick, Joel Currier and Chuck Raasch of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.)

(c)2018 St. Louis Post-Dispatch