A report from a House committee investigating Gov. Eric Greitens’ conduct contends that the governor signed a false account to state ethics officials about how he obtained a fundraising list from a veterans charity.
The report, released Wednesday, also states Greitens received the fundraising list much earlier than what was in a Missouri Ethics Commission consent order that he signed in April 2017.
At issue is how Greitens obtained a fundraising list from The Mission Continues, a veterans charity he co-founded. After initially denying he used the list for political purposes, Greitens ended up admitting in the consent order that he did use it to help raise money for his campaign. He was fined $1,000 by the Missouri Ethics Commission, but it was reduced to $100 because he paid early.
The House report says that the consent order contains false information. Most notable is how the consent order said that Danny Laub obtained The Mission Continues list. The order said all parties agree that the campaign obtained the list in early 2015.
In fact, Greitens received the list in 2014 from a Mission Continues employee. Krystal Taylor, one of the employees at a company he owned, called The Greitens Group, sent the list to Laub and Michael Hafner in 2015. Both men were campaign workers for Greitens at the time.
According to depositions provided to the House committee from Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office, Laub said that a key Greitens aide, Austin Chambers, told him he needed “someone who was on the campaign at the time, because I wasn’t, to put their name down so we can get this [expletive] complaint dismissed.”
The deposition went on to say that Chambers told Laub that Greitens’ campaign “will pay the fine.” Laub said that he thought that meant Chambers could say he was campaign manager at the time — not that he provided Greitens with the list.
“Laub testified that if Chambers had not misled him that he ‘would never have agreed for it to be perceived or otherwise that I in-kinded a list that I did not in-kind,’” the report states. “Laub testified he would have never authorized Chambers to use his name as someone who donated the list ‘because that’s untrue...’ Further, Laub testified that the TMC list was not donated to the campaign on March 1, 2015. Instead, he testified that nothing happened with the TMC list on that date.”
In a statement to St. Louis Public Radio, Chambers described Laub as a “disgruntled former employee.”
“In the course of responding to a complaint filed by the former state Democratic Party Chairman, the campaign found that the donor list in question was in Laub's possession when the campaign was formed. This was supported by records retained by the campaign,” Chambers said. “Prior to the settlement with the MEC, I relayed this finding to Laub in a brief phone conversation. Laub did not provide differing facts. To say that I provided false information, or misled Laub to go along with false information, is absolutely untrue.”
State Rep. Jay Barnes, the Jefferson City Republican leading the committee examining Greitens’ conduct, said in a text message to St. Louis Public Radio that “the committee looks forward to hearing Austin Chambers' sworn testimony.”
Catherine Hanaway, legal counsel for Greitens, said: “If the committee had heard from the campaign, it would have learned that Mr. Laub had possession of the list in early 2015, that the campaign was not formed until then, and that Mr. Laub was the top staff person on the campaign when it began.”
“If you read the actual testimony, Mr. Laub says Mr. Chambers called him, told him that his name would appear on the campaign finance report, that he was being listed because he was at the campaign at the time — and Mr. Laub agreed,” Hanaway said.
The House committee report that was released states that Greitens was sent a donor list in 2014 from The Mission Continues.
That’s almost a year earlier than what he acknowledged in the settlement with the Missouri Ethics Commission. He was fined for failing to disclose the list on his campaign reports as a contribution.
Taylor testified to the committee that “‘there was no confusion’ when she shared the list with Hafner and Laub at Greitens’ direction that they were going to use it to support ‘the political campaign’ and, in particular, ‘political fundraising.’”
The report states that Greitens clearly knew that he wasn’t supposed to use that list for political purposes, because it could endanger the nonprofit status for The Mission Continues.
“The report shows the governor took advantage of a charity that works hard to take care of our veterans,” Barnes said in a statement. “The committee found that The Mission Continues was the true owner of the fundraising list and its property was taken without permission and used inappropriately for political gain.”
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner charged Greitens with felony computer data tampering earlier this year in connection with the use of the list. Greitens has said he would fight those charges in court.
Hanaway said the report “does a tremendous disservice to the U.S. and Missouri constitutions.”
“This is, at its core, a minor campaign finance issue,” said Hanaway, who ran against Greitens for governor in the 2016 Republican primary.
“The report pertains to allegations made about the source of a list used to raise money for a campaign. The witnesses were employees of or consultants to the campaign. Two of them were replaced long before election day. One of them (Hafner) worked for one of the Governor’s opponents in the campaign. And all of them were testifying about the campaign itself.”
Hanaway also said that the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, “did not allow the campaign to confront its accusers or respond to accusations.”
“If Chairman Barnes were on a quest to find out the truth, he has unfinished business to conduct,” she added. “He ought to ask the campaign for its version of events before acting as judge and jury in a matter that was settled long ago.
Vice presidential connection
Chambers’ entry in the report is notable because of his connections to Vice President Mike Pence.
Chambers works for a consulting company founded by Nick Ayers. Ayers eventually became Pence’s chief of staff in June 2017. The consent order was signed on April 28, 2017.
If what Laub said in his deposition about Chambers turns out to be accurate, it could prompt questions about whether Ayers knew about it. Chambers told St. Louis Public Radio that “Ayers was not involved” with signing the consent order.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last month that Ayers had not spoken to the governor since it was revealed in January that Greitens had an extramarital affair in 2015. Greitens is facing a separate felony invasion of privacy charge for allegedly taking a semi-nude photo of the woman without her consent.
Reactions from legislators
Some Missouri lawmakers haven’t changed their minds, pro or con, on Greitens as governor, after the release of the report Wednesday.
Fellow Republican and state Rep. Nate Walker of Kirksville hopes the additional report spurs the House to begin impeachment proceedings: “We, [House Republicans], had a caucus today and different things were discussed, but I do think the time is now to consider impeachment,” he said.
“The governor, if he had resigned back in January, it would’ve been better off for him and his family – but he did what he did.”
Walker was among the first lawmakers to call on the governor to resign.
Republican Sen. Ed Emery of Lamar has concerns about some of the details in the report, but said he thinks Greitens should first have his day in court. “That should bring some things to light that maybe haven’t been brought to light, absent the governor’s own testimony,” Emery said.
“I still think that the [trial] on May 14 is a very important piece of information that we need to have, and I’m reluctant to make judgments until we hear both sides – I just feel like it’s a little bit premature.”
Follow Jason Rosenbaum: @jrosenbaum