Lawmakers want to know who helped pay legal expenses for a man intricately involved in Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ legal and political saga.
It comes as a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers also want to know who is paying the governor’s legal bills.
A House report on Greitens’ conduct contains testimony from a woman who says the governor sexually and physically abused her. The woman’s ex-husband exposed her relationship with Greitens in a story that aired on KMOV after the governor’s State of the State address in January.
The ex-husband told members of a House committee looking into Greitens’ conduct that “an unidentified third-party had paid at least $15,000 ‘to cover lawyer fees and all of the things that were about to happen.” After the man spoke to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he told the committee “someone contacted my lawyer and said he was going to help with legal fees.” The Post-Dispatch has reported it is not behind the payments.
That ex-husband has retained attorney Al Watkins, who did not respond to a message on Thursday (Watkins and other attorneys are restricted from speaking to the media about most aspects of the case.)
Watkins declined to say earlier this year if anyone besides the ex-husband was paying for his legal representation. He also didn’t say if a third party was paying him to represent Eli Karabell or Paul Henreid, two other people who have injected themselves into the Greitens saga.
The detail of outside legal payment was a side issue in the report, and will likely not affect whether Greitens is impeached. Still, legislators interviewed by St. Louis Public Radio want to know who sent that money — especially if it was from a person or group who would benefit from Greitens being forced from office.
“I think it’s important,” said Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. “And I presume that will come out at some point, with how many investigations there are going on looking into this. I think, at the end of the day certainly, I don’t think the way the governor is paying for some of his stuff presently is above board — and certainly not transparent. But I think you have to ask and demand the same sort of transparency on the other side. If we claim to be impartial and going after the truth, we need to do that.”
Governor's legal fund elicits scrutiny
Rowden was referring to how the governor’s allies set up a 527 nonprofit to pay Greitens’ legal expenses. And donors to that fund haven’t been disclosed yet. It’s a setup that prompted concerns that interests donating to that nonprofit could influence how Greitens governs.
In fact, Watkins told St. Louis Public Radio earlier this year that he'd be "happy" to say "who it is that's paying" the ex-husband's legal fees when the governor makes his own disclosure.
"But in the meantime, how I'm paid, if I'm paid and when I'm paid? It's nobody's business," he said.
527s are required to disclose their donations periodically, which means the public could end up seeing how the governor’s legal bills are being paid. There are potential legal restrictions about disclosing the source of third-party payments of legal expenses.
State Rep. Nate Walker, R-Kirksville, said it would be good for the public to know the funding sources for Greitens’ legal expenses and the payments for ex-husband’s legal expenses. That’s especially the case after political groups and candidates, including Greitens, have used politically-active nonprofits to shield the source of political donations.
“I think you should be concerned about both. And it’s important that we do find out the source of this money,” Walker said. “And I think Rep. [Jay] Barnes and his committee, that will be one of the things that they’ll probably continue to work on. But we need full disclosure. We don’t need dark money all over the place. And I consider that dark money. So we need to know where that money came from. And then wherever it came from, then the chips will fall where they might.”
That committee has until May 18 to complete its work looking into the governor’s activities.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum