A Plea Deal and a Resignation: What Gov. Greitens Got for Giving Up

by | May 31, 2018

By Joel Currier and Robert Patrick

Lawyers for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens contacted St. Louis prosecutors Saturday, proposing that he would resign from office if Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner would drop a felony charge against him.

That plan came to fruition this week, with the governor's abrupt announcement Tuesday that he would leave office by the end of the week, and Gardner dropping the computer tampering charge he faced in St. Louis.

Gardner, a Democrat, announced the dismissal Wednesday during a press conference at the Carnahan Courthouse. Her office had charged Greitens, a Republican, on April 20 with illegally using a donor list from Greitens' former charity for political fundraising toward his 2016 run for the state's highest office. Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, founded the nonprofit The Mission Continues in 2007.

"It is time for us to move on," Gardner said, adding later: "I remain confident that we have the evidence required to pursue charges against Mr. Greitens. But sometimes, pursuing charges is not the right or just thing to do for our city or state."

In dismissing the case, Gardner noted that first-time offenders, particularly in nonviolent cases, rarely serve prison time. Gardner would not answer questions from reporters Wednesday.

After her press conference, her spokeswoman Susan Ryan said Greitens' defense lawyers approached prosecutors about an agreement Saturday and initiated the idea that he would resign if Gardner dropped the charge.

After Circuit Judge Rex Burlison on Wednesday accepted a stipulation for dismissal from both sides, defense lawyer Jim Martin stressed that Greitens' decision to resign is a personal one and not stemming from fears of being prosecuted for computer tampering.

The case will be dismissed officially once Greitens resigns _ with prejudice _ which means it cannot be refiled. Martin declined to comment on the substance of the agreement.

Burlison released redacted copies of the agreement Wednesday. The agreement releases Gardner "and all members of her office and consultants of her office from any civil liability on account of matters alleged" in both the invasion of privacy and computer tampering cases. The agreement also "waives any claim to court costs not already taxed in either cause."

Asked for details about the redacted sections of the agreement, Robert Dierker, Gardner's chief trial assistant, would only say that the circuit attorney's office owes $18,000 to Cole County Senior Circuit Judge Rich Callahan, who served as a special master in the invasion of privacy case.

Asked if Greitens admitted any wrongdoing or made any apology, Ryan would not comment. She said there was no coordination with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who was named a special prosecutor in an invasion of privacy case against Greitens. Gardner dropped the charge three days into jury selection when faced with having to answer questions under oath about her former lead investigator, William Don Tisaby.

There was also no discussion with a Missouri House committee investigating Greitens, Gardner's spokeswoman said.

Ryan said the agreement does not benefit Gardner in any way. She said there's no deal about possible sanctions against or a police investigation into Gardner or her office regarding allegations of misconduct. Defense lawyer have accused Gardner of improperly withholding evidence and suborning sworn testimony from her lead investigator.

Asked how she felt about the outcome of the case, Ryan said, "It's actually a really sad time in our state's history," adding that it was good the two parties came together and agreed "this behavior is not going to be OK."

Cristian Stevens, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said that plea deals with public officials or employees in federal court typically require that official to step down. The loss of that job serves as punishment, he said, and can deter other officials from similar conduct. It also prevents that person from further misconduct, both by removing them from office and giving them a felony conviction that can prevent them from serving in some future positions.

Stevens said every case is different, but what is not typical in federal court is the dismissal of a case without some guilty plea and admission of guilt.

While Gardner said Wednesday that dismissal of the computer tampering charge was the best course of action, she criticized Greitens' statements that he had done no wrong and had been the victim of a witch hunt.

Not quite 17 months into his term, Greitens is going out the way he came in, haunted by the specter of dark money.

"Contrary to Mr. Greitens' past statements, there was no witch hunt, no plans to bring pain to him or his family," Gardner said. "Quite the contrary, the consequences Mr. Greitens has suffered he brought upon himself by his actions, his statements, his decisions, his ambition and pursuit for power."

Gardner said there "was no coordinated effort by anyone to target him based upon his politics. Rather it was his actions."

The Greitens cases "did not cost taxpayers any more than our existing budget allocation. And these cases were not pursued at the expense of my office's priorities," she said.

Greitens' attorneys had asked a judge to disqualify Gardner from the computer tampering case, accusing her of running a politically motivated investigation against the governor.

The defense argued that Tisaby, the private investigator hired by Gardner in the invasion of privacy case, committed perjury, tainting her office's ability to prosecute the newer felony charge against the governor. The defense also accused Gardner of repeated failures to turn over evidence as required, resulting in sanctions by Burlison last week allowing the defense to re-interview some witnesses, including Tisaby.

Baker, the Jackson County prosecutor, said her investigation continues into allegations Greitens in March 2015 took a semi-nude photograph of his then-lover without her consent. The woman has accused him of threatening to release the photo if she spoke about the affair. Greitens has denied claims he blackmailed her.

Gardner said Baker has sole authority over for invasion of privacy case now.

Greitens' surprise announcement Tuesday came hours after a ruling by a Cole County judge that would force the governor's campaign and a dark-money political group affiliated with Greitens to reveal fundraising information to a special House investigative committee.

(c)2018 St. Louis Post-Dispatch