House panel probing governor questions publisher's access to $120,000
Newspaper publisher Scott Faughn emphasized repeatedly to a state House committee that he used his own $120,000 to pay a lawyer — in cash — for a recording of a woman tearfully describing her initial sexual encounter with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.
But chairman Jay Barnes wasn’t buying it: “No one believes this was your own money.”
Variations of those exchanges continued for three hours Wednesday as the committee investigating possible wrongdoing by Greitens probes whether his political enemies are trying to bankroll an effort to force him out of office.
Barnes and other panel members pointed to court records showing that, until a few months ago, Faughn had apparently had money problems and been behind in his taxes. They also cited his finance-related conviction a decade ago. Faughn’s lawyer, Chuck Hatfield, accused the committee of improperly portraying his client as “a deadbeat’’ when he was actually a successful businessman.
The committee also is seeking financial records from the governor. A few blocks away from the panel's proceedings in the state Capitol, lawyers for the governor and the committee were battling in court. The panel wants the records for Greitens' campaign committee and a nonprofit group – called A New Missouri – that the governor formed after his 2016 election.
The nonprofit does not disclose its donors and appears to be paying for at least part of Greitens’ massive legal team. His campaign committee is paying for his new statewide TV ad blitz.
Greitens’ team seeks to discredit Faughn, woman
Meanwhile, Greitens’ lawyers also are playing hardball by attacking the character and the behavior of the woman with whom Greitens had an extramarital affair in 2015, before he ran for office.
That relationship is at the center of the more salacious accusations directed at the governor. He is under investigation over the woman’s allegation that he took a photo of her without her consent as she was partially nude, bound and blindfolded in his basement.
Greitens is alleged to have threatened to make the photo public if she ever acknowledged their affair. The governor has denied violating any laws but otherwise has not provided any details about their relationship.
The woman’s ex-husband secretly recorded her confession about their relationship, without her knowledge or consent, and then circulated it to news outlets. She has reluctantly testified before a grand jury, and before the House committee, since the matter became public.
The ex-husband’s lawyer, Al Watkins, sold a copy of the recording months ago to Faughn, who says he plans on using it as part of a book he’s writing on Missouri politics. Faughn testified that he was unaware when he paid Watkins that some news outlets had gotten the recordings for free.
Faughn said his payments were delivered in three or four installments. He said he personally gave most of the money to Watkins, but about $50,000 was couriered over by someone on Faughn’s staff.
A couple of Greitens' lawyers – who were in the audience – loudly protested at the end of his testimony because the committee has barred the governor’s team from interviewing Faughn or any other witnesses when they appear before the committee.
Greitens' lawyers Ed Dowd and Eddie Greim alleged to reporters that they believe the governor’s enemies provided Faughn with the money.
Watkins is slated to appear before the committee on Thursday. He and Faughn appear to disagree on several points regarding their business transactions.
In an earlier interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Watkins said that Faughn “made it really clear that there was a wealthy, Republican donor who had an ax to grind with the governor.”
Faughn denied that any donor had given him money to pass on to Watkins.
Faughn testified that he did not sign any sort of nondisclosure agreement, although Watkins claimed that he had. Watkins also said that he had made it clear to Faughn that he was working with some media outlets to publicize the affair.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Watkins declined comment about Faughn’s testimony.
Faughn had testified under oath, as will Watkins. Barnes emphasized Wednesday that lying was a crime and could land any of the committee's witnesses in jail.
Greitens' lawyers focus on sex during deposition
Dowd, one of Greitens’ lawyers, defended the team’s decision to ask the woman during her deposition with them if her photos were on a pornographic website. She denied it.
On Wednesday, the House committee tossed out the photos from its investigation. The panel of eight men and two women viewed the photos during a closed session, concluding that the pictures were indeed not of her and therefore not pertinent.
The episode also exemplified the approach that Greitens’ legal team took during the deposition they took of the woman, a St. Louis-area hairdresser.
The deposition is a significant chunk of the hundreds of pages that the committee has been reading aloud since convening Tuesday. And it includes numerous questions of a sexually graphic nature.
The woman was asked about various sexual practices involving her and Greitens, as well as the specifics of her relations with her then-husband. She was even asked if she had read the erotic novel "Fifty Shades of Grey," if it aroused her and if she had ever discussed it with Greitens.
The woman testified that she had an extramarital affair only with Greitens.
Members of the House panel are taking turns reading the transcript, each playing different parts.
In testimony read Wednesday, the woman said she and her then-husband were separated at the time of her affair with Greitens. An attempted reconciliation ended when she learned of the secret recording. They divorced afterward.
The House panel is looking into several allegations of improper personal and professional behavior by Greitens. The committee is expected to take a few weeks to reach a conclusion. Its report will go to the full House, which will decide whether the governor should be impeached or face other discipline.
The matter then would go to the state Senate, which would appoint a panel of judges to hear the case and decide whether Greitens should be removed from office.
Greitens running TV ads
Meanwhile, Greitens’ campaign has begun running TV ads around the state in which he blames Democrats and “liberals’’ for his legal problems. In fact, most of the calls for his resignation have come from fellow Republicans – including House and Senate GOP leaders.
Federal Communication Commission records indicate that Greitens is spending more than $100,000 on ads running on St. Louis-area stations through June.
Jason Rosenbaum contributed information for this article.
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