Gov. Eric Greitens lashed out at the media on Monday over revelations that he and his staff use an app that erases text messages after they’ve been read.
The Star reported last week that Greitens and most members of his government staff use Confide, an app that not only destroys a text message after it has been read but also prevents someone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of the text.
Democrats decried the governor’s use of the app and called on Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley to investigate whether the governor’s office is illegally destroying public records.
When asked Monday at an event in St. Louis about his use of the app, Greitens did not dispute the facts of the story. Instead, he criticized the media.
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“This is another nothing story that’s come from a liberal media outlet that is just desperate for salacious headlines,” Greitens said, later adding: “The fact is, we know that sometimes media outlets like The Kansas City Star will be desperate to attack us at every turn, and one of the reasons why they are is that we’re here fighting for the people of Missouri.”
Government transparency advocates worry the app could be used to undercut the state’s open records laws.
Because Confide deletes texts automatically after they’ve been read, it is impossible to determine whether the governor and his staff are using it to conduct state business out of view of the public or whether the texts should be considered a public record.
Amid calls for an investigation of the governor’s office use of the app on Friday, Hawley’s office told The Star that it was unable to get involved in any Sunshine Law matter pertaining to the governor’s office because the attorney general currently represents the governor in ongoing litigation.
At a press conference Monday morning, Hawley said that the Missouri Supreme Court has previously ruled that the attorney general’s office can’t simultaneously represent a state officer or state agency and also take legal action against that state officer or agency.
But Hawley said he is continuing to study the issue.
“The legal complexities are significant,” he said, “but we are reviewing those carefully and as swiftly as possible.”
In addition to Greitens — whose Confide account is under the name “Er Robert” — the governor’s chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, legislative director, press secretary, policy adviser, director of cabinet affairs and several other senior staff members have Confide accounts connected to their personal cell phones.
Hawley said it doesn’t matter if they were using their private phones. Text messages between government employees, regardless of whether they are on a private phone or government-issued phone, should be treated the same as emails — there must be a determination made as to whether the text is a record, and if so, if it is subject to disclosure under the Sunshine Law.
“I don’t think it settles the matter just because it is a private device or a personal device. That alone, I believe, would not qualify that as a non-record,” he said. “This is one of the difficulties we face with a Sunshine Law that was written decades and decades ago and has not been updated to take into account modern technology. In general, text messages should be treated like and subject to the same analysis as emails.”
If his office can’t look into the matter, Hawley said, the Cole County prosecutor would also have jurisdiction.
Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson could not be reached for comment.