By Jason Hancock

Gov. Eric Greitens' office illegally hired two private attorneys to help fend off impeachment, Attorney General Josh Hawley said Friday in a letter to the state auditor.

The attorneys, Hawley wrote, who "purport to represent the Office of Governor at taxpayer expense are acting without authority under Missouri law."

Greitens' office pushed back hard against the attorney general's letter, saying Hawley "has his facts wrong" and adding that "the Governor's adversaries would no doubt like to deprive the Governor's office of counsel."

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, earlier this week asked Greitens' office to turn over any information about the hiring of Ross Garber and Edward Greim.

Garber is a Washington, D.C., attorney charging the state $320 an hour, or half what he said he normally charges.

Greim is a Kansas City-based attorney charging the state $340 an hour.

Both say they were hired to represent the governor's office and not Greitens personally.

Garber has previously defended three other governors facing impeachment proceedings: Robert Bentley of Alabama, Mark Sanford of South Carolina and John Rowland of Connecticut.

Their fees are being covered by the governor's office budget.

In a letter obtained Friday afternoon by The Star, Hawley said the governor's office "lacks authority to retain private counsel to participate in connection with any adversarial proceeding without the Attorney General's consent."

It is clear, Hawley wrote, that the state Constitution designates the attorney general as "the presumptive legal counsel of state executive entities and officers -- including the Office of Governor -- in connection with adversarial proceedings" unless otherwise stated by Missouri law.

He notes that state law expressly authorizes some government agencies to hire private counsel, such as the departments of transportation and conservation. The governor's office is not one of those agencies, and thus, any private counsel must be approved by the attorney general's office.

Garber and Greim are acting as attorneys for the governor's office, Hawley wrote, and are being paid using taxpayer funds. Yet, "no authority exists for the Office of Governor to retain those attorneys."

Hawley went on to question whether Garber and Greim are actually representing the governor's office as opposed to Greitens personally.

"It appears that the private counsel retained by Office of Governor are simply advancing the private interests of the individual who happens to currently occupy that office, rather than the constitutional interest of the office itself," Hawley wrote.

Hawley asked that Galloway's office take this in mind as it continues its probe into the governor's office's hiring of the private attorneys. The letter also was sent to Republican and Democratic legislative leaders and State Treasurer Eric Schmitt.

Parker Briden, Greitens press secretary, said in an email to The Star Friday afternoon that it is "long established that the governor's office has the ability to hire counsel to represent the governor in his official capacity."

Briden pointed to a state law that says the governor may "employ and fix the compensation of such legal and clerical assistants as may be necessary for the efficient conduct of his office."

Impeachment implicates the institution of the office of the governor, Briden said, and not just the individual.

"An effort by one branch of government to sit in judgment on another implicates the core of the executive branch of government," Briden said, later adding: "The governor's office has the authority to hire counsel to represent the office to defend its interests in any purported impeachment."

Hawley is wrong to assert that Garber and Greim are acting in the personal or private interests of the governor, Briden said. When they've interacted with the legislature or responded to requests for documents, it has been on behalf of the office, not Greitens personally.

"The arguments for due process advanced by the governor's counsel will affect the dignity of the office for generations to come, regardless of the individual who holds the office," Briden said.

The governor's office responded to Galloway's request Friday with a letter saying how much the attorneys are paid and noting that they regularly interact with the chairman and special counsel of the House committee.

(c)2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)