(Updated 2 p.m. Friday, April 27) A Cole County judge has rejected Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ request for a restraining order to prevent Attorney General Josh Hawley from being involved in any case against the embattled governor.
The judge's decision, issued Friday, means that the attorney general can continue investigating the governor. Hawley's staff has sent over some information to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who is overseeing the criminal case filed in St. Louis and set to go to trial May 14.
Hawley also has forwarded information to the Cole County prosecutor investigating allegations that Greitens has lied about his involvement in his campaign's admitted use of the donor list that's the property of The Mission Continues, a charity that Greitens helped found to aid military veterans.
Greitens’ attorney, Jim Bennett, had argued that Hawley is passing judgment on the governor by calling on him to resign while still investigating him, and that his public comments about Greitens will make it hard for him to get a fair trial next month on the invasion of privacy charge that's part of Gardner's case.
“The chief law enforcement officer of the state of Missouri is making extrajudicial comments about the very matter of a trial that’s coming up, and about another investigation that he hasn’t even [filed charges], and that he is still undertaking,” Bennett said.
He also suggests that Hawley’s public statements about Greitens are a way to boost Hawley's U.S. Senate campaign.
John Sauer, representing the attorney general’s office, disagreed.
“The attorney general has shown leadership and courage by calling on the governor to resign promptly after the release of the first House report,” he said. “It is part of his role as a statewide elected official to show that leadership, and to call on the governor to resign when there’s been these kind of allegations against him.”
The restraining order also asks Circuit Judge Jon Beetem to appoint an independent prosecutor to take over any investigation by Hawley into The Mission Continues donor list. Hawley turned over evidence from that investigation last week to St. Louis Prosecutor Kim Gardner, who then charged the governor with felony computer tampering.
Bennett said, though, they’re not looking to halt the investigation into what happened to the donor list.
“We would ask that you ask somebody who hasn’t made these public statements, who hasn’t said things that would give the appearance of a conclusion perhaps already having been reached, and allow it to proceed that way,” Bennett said to Beetem.
Sauer argued that appointing an independent prosecutor would delay the investigation for “months.”
“The public interest enormously favors that the attorney general of Missouri, who was elected by the people of Missouri to engage in this executive function, to be allowed to continue in an orderly fashion,” he said.
Sauer also said that Hawley’s public statements about Greitens focused on the findings of the House committee that’s investigating allegations regarding his extramarital affair with his former hairdresser – not on the donor list investigation. Bennett strongly disagreed, stating that Hawley said on April 17 that his office had “uncovered evidence of wrongdoing” in the donor list case.
“We’re setting up a situation where apparently the attorney general can say in the most public way possible, three weeks before a trial that we’re getting ready to start, anything he wishes to say that has a prejudicial effect on a defendant in a case, and that that’s okay,” he said.
St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jo Mannies contributed to this article.
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