Updated April 18 at 5:38 p.m. with governor's effort to block Hawley from further investigation — Attorney General Josh Hawley is asking the St. Louis circuit attorney to file criminal charges against Gov. Eric Greitens for allegedly illegally obtaining a fundraising list from a charity he founded for political purposes.
It marks the latest legal blow for the GOP chief executive, who is also facing felony invasion of privacy charges for allegedly taking a semi-nude photo of a woman with whom he had an affair.
This particular matter stems from Greitens’ successful 2016 campaign for governor. It involves how his campaign received a fundraising list from the Mission Continues, a veterans charity that Greitens help found before he ran for office. Hawley announced on Tuesday that his office had evidence that Greitens illegally obtained that fundraising list. The Mission Continues has adamantly denied giving the donor list to the Greitens campaign.
“Evidence now in our possession would likely support a finding of probable cause that Mr. Greitens obtained an electronic donor list given by the Mission Continues for that organization’s internal purposes,” Hawley said. “Mr. Greitens however used that list for political fundraising. He transmitted that list for political fundraising. And he did all of this without the permission of the Mission Continues.”
But Hawley said his office doesn’t have jurisdiction to file charges. He said he’s forwarding the evidence to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, so she can make a decision before statute of limitations run out.
“The evidence also indicates that conduct committed by Mr. Grietens falls within the statute of limitations. So it can be charged and prosecuted,” Hawley said. “But the deadline for the statute of limitations is fast approaching. And so, a charging decision must be made very soon.”
Laura L'Esperance, a spokeswoman for The Mission Continues, said in a statement "we appreciate that AG Hawley has recognized that the evidence fully supports that The Mission Continues did not authorize the use of any donor information for political purposes. Nor did we promote Governor Greitens for political office."
In an e-mail to St. Louis Public Radio, Gardner's spokeswoman said: "Yesterday, prosecutors in the Circuit Attorney’s Office met with members of the Attorney General’s team. The AG’s team provided information they have gathered to us, and we are reviewing the evidence. We can’t discuss any specifics at this time, as the investigation is ongoing."
If proven, Hawley said these acts could amount to unauthorized use and taking of property, “in this case electronic property.” And given the value of the list in question, Hawley said, the offense amounts to a felony.
In a statement, Greitens said: "Fortunately for Josh, he’s better at press conferences than the law."
"Anyone who has set foot in a Missouri courtroom knows these allegations are ridiculous," Greitens said. "Josh has turned the 'evidence' he claims to have over to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner — a liberal prosecutor funded by George Soros who allegedly suborned perjury, falsified documents, and withheld evidence. We will dispense with these false allegations."
One of Greitens attorneys, Jim Martin, said in a statement that "we’ve done a thorough review of this matter, and we know that there’s no wrongdoing here. In fact, there’s nothing close to wrongdoing."
"Eric built The Mission Continues from scratch, and he helped thousands of veterans by doing so," Martin said. "The Attorney General held a completely frivolous and inappropriate press conference on a non-issue."
Attorneys for Greitens on Monday filed court documents in Jefferson City demanding that Hawley stop investigating the governor because of conflicts of interest. The motion for a temporary restraining order indicates that Hawley may be looking at whether Greitens violated the state's consumer protection laws.
A campaign charge
Hawley’s press conference comes as Greitens is under increasing pressure to resign. He faced bipartisan calls to step down last week after the release of a graphic House report on his conduct. He’s called allegations of sexual and physical abuse on that report “lies” and a “witch hunt.”
He's also facing felony invasion of privacy charges for taking a semi-nude photo of the woman without her consent. A judge is set to rule on Thursday whether to dismiss that case.
But the Mission Continues fundraising list controversy has dogged him since he ran for governor in 2016.
In October of that year, the Associated Press reported that Greitens raised close to $2 million from people that also donated to the Mission Continues. The wire service obtained a spreadsheet showing the names, email addresses and phone numbers of people who gave at least $1,000 to The Mission Continues.
After initially denying that his campaign worked off a Mission Continues donor list, Greitens’ campaign ended up paying a $100 fine with the Missouri Ethics Commission. It amended its campaign finance reports to show a $600 in-kind donation from former campaign manager Danny Laub.
But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported earlier this year that Greitens’ former assistant sent the fundraising list to the Greitens campaign. That disclosure prompted former Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple to file an ethics complaint asking the MEC to refer Greitens for criminal prosecution.
The fact that the fundraising list issue was first raised in October 2016 wasn't lost on U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who may face Hawley in this year's U.S. Senate race.
"The evidence in this case has been publicly available since October 2016 — what excuse could Josh Hawley possibly have for failing to pursue an investigation and allowing this evidence to languish for over a year?" said Meira Bernstein, a spokeswoman for McCaskill's campaign.
When asked, Hawley denied using the investigation into The Mission Continues to benefit his own political aspirations.
“I’m doing my job, and my job is to enforce the laws of Missouri and to protect the people of Missouri,” he said. “And I’m going to go on doing it, no matter who criticizes me or tried to intimidate me – this office will not be intimidated and we will not be deterred.”
The Mission Continues development could provide ammunition for lawmakers to impeach Greitens. Republican leaders plan on waiting until after the legislative session is over to pursue that possible route, though Democrats want that process to begin now.
“I do think that this evidence would likely support the finding of probable cause that a crime was committed,” Hawley said. “These standards for impeachment say that a crime is grounds for impeachment, so I think you could certainly say that these appear to be impeachable offenses – that is a decision for the House to make, however, and that’s why we’re giving them everything that we have.”
In a statement, House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said "the evidence that Eric Greitens is unfit to serve as governor mounts."
"He should spare himself and the people of Missouri the ordeal of impeachment proceedings and resign without further delay," McCann Beatty said. "If Greitens continues to stubbornly cling to power, the House must immediately act to initiate his ultimate removal from office.”
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