Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has announced a welcome and necessary investigation into Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of a phone application that deletes text messages after they’re read.
In a letter to a St. Louis area lawmaker, Hawley’s office said it “takes very seriously the mandates of transparency and open government” included in state law.
“All Missourians,” Hawley wrote, “deserve a state government that is open, transparent and accountable.”
Hawley is right. An investigation into the governor’s use of the app should help determine if Greitens shares that view.
The Star first revealed Greitens’ use of the app, called Confide. It allows the governor and his allies to exchange encrypted text messages that are deleted once they’ve been read. The software prevents someone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screen shot of the message.
That makes it impossible to know if the text messages involve state business. If they do, the Missouri Sunshine Law seems clear: The texts, which are electronic records, must be retained and made available to the press and public if requested.
Hawley’s decision to pursue the matter is something of a reversal. Earlier, his office said it could not pursue the case because the attorney general represents the governor’s office on other legal matters.
But on Wednesday, Hawley — who is a Republican like Greitens — said he’ll work to prevent any conflicts of interest during the investigation.
“While my office currently represents the governor in ongoing litigation, it represents the governor in those other cases in his official capacity,” Hawley said. “The real party in interest in each of those cases, and the office’s true client, is the State of Missouri.”
This is clearly the correct approach.
For his part, the governor has groused about the controversy since it first became public. He hasn’t disputed the facts of the story, relying instead on a tiresome standby: Blame the media.
Yet this isn’t a partisan issue. Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, is locked in a dispute over text messages as well.
The attorney general’s inquiry can and should bring needed clarity to these cases. We’re confident he’ll find in favor of Missourians and open government: Text messages can be public records when used for public business.
If he does not, however, the General Assembly should move quickly to add public officials’ text messages to protected status under the Sunshine Law.
It has not been a good year for transparency in the governor’s office. From dark money charities to secret inaugural contributions to exorbitant Sunshine Law fees, Greitens has treated his public work as a private affair, and none of your business.
The attorney general, the courts and the legislature must reject such secrecy whenever possible. Hawley has taken a good first step to ensure that Missourians get the transparent and accountable government they deserve.