Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office has ended its inquiry into Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of a secret messaging app, finding no evidence of wrongdoing in part because it could not find evidence.
A report issued by Hawley’s office Thursday states that the attorney general’s team interviewed eight high-level members of the governor’s staff about their use of Confide, an app that automatically destroys messages after the recipient has read them.
The governor was not interviewed in the investigation.
The Star uncovered in December that Greitens and several members of his staff had accounts for the secret messaging app, sparking concerns from transparency advocates that they were using it to circumvent the state’s Sunshine Law and conduct government business without leaving a paper trail.
Three of Greitens' staffers told Hawley’s team that they never used the app to discuss work matters.
The five other staffers confirmed that they did use it to discuss their government positions, but “described the nature of their Confide communications as consisting entirely of non-substantive matters such as logistics and scheduling.”
The report from Hawley’s office said their “accounts appear credible” but also acknowledged that “the nature of Confide necessarily means that no documentary evidence exists to corroborate (or contradict) this testimony.”
Hawley’s office said that seven of the eight staffers said they had downloaded the app only to their personal phones rather than their government-issued devices.
One of the staffers “stated that he had downloaded Confide onto both his personal phone and his State-issued phone.”
“However, that individual maintained that he did not send Confide messages from his State-issued phone to anyone other than to his own personal phone,” the report said. “He stated that he sent these messages to himself in order to understand how Confide works and how messages would appear to recipients. He stated that none of these messages related to public business.”
Greitens’ office celebrated the release as vindication that the governor has adhered to the state’s Sunshine Law and records retention law.
“This thorough report recognizes that we have gone above and beyond what the law requires in the interest of transparency,” said Parker Briden, Greitens’ spokesman, in an email. “We look forward to working with the legislature to modernize the state records retention and Sunshine law to bring further clarity to these issues.”
Greitens is still facing a lawsuit by two St. Louis attorneys claiming use of Confide by the governor and his staff constitutes a conspiracy to violate Missouri's open records laws.
Mark Pedroli, one of the attorneys who sued Greitens, said the governor's refusal to be interviewed, citing executive privilege, made the report's findings worthless.
"With people losing confidence in their government by the day, we now learn that the governor refused to be questioned and his staff asserted executive privilege in the Attorney General's investigation into his use of Confide," Pedroli said in an email to The Star. "The governor, by these tactics, has prevented a bonafide investigation into the allegation of the destruction of state records."
Pedroli added that a "real investigation into the governor's use of Confide, an investigation with subpoena power and the ability to put witnesses under oath, will continue at the Cole County courthouse."
The same day that Hawley's office ended its Confide investigation, it also announced that it was opening an inquiry into the governor’s veterans charity.
On top of the attorney general’s investigation, Greitens faces the prospect of a criminal trial in St. Louis and a legislative inquiry for unrelated allegations that he photographed a woman without her consent in 2015 in an effort to keep her from speaking about an extramarital affair.