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Missourians can’t trust Hawley investigation into Greitens’ use of text-destroying app

How can Missourians have confidence in Attorney General Josh Hawley’s investigation of Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of the Confide app if the governor didn’t even take part?
How can Missourians have confidence in Attorney General Josh Hawley’s investigation of Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of the Confide app if the governor didn’t even take part? St. Louis Public Radio

It’s increasingly clear the investigation into Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of a secret phone texting application was substandard, and therefore a disservice to all Missourians.

The investigation — conducted by the office of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley — found no evidence that Greitens and his staff violated the state’s Sunshine Law by using the app, called Confide.

The Star broke the story of the governor’s use of Confide last year. The app erases messages after they’re sent, so any hard evidence of improper use of the technology had vanished by the time investigators began their work.

That meant the attorney general’s office had to rely on the statements of the governor’s aides during the investigation. That reliance alone gives Missourians reason enough to distrust the findings in the case.

But there’s more: In recent days, additional disturbing details have emerged about the way the office approached the investigation. Those details further discount its conclusions.

It turns out, for example, that the attorney general’s office never interviewed Greitens. Darrell Moore, a deputy attorney general, told reporters last week he lacked subpoena power to force Greitens’ cooperation, or that of any other witness.

Greitens’ unwillingness to discuss Confide is not a surprise. But how are Missourians to believe the investigation’s conclusions when the governor declined to take part?

In a campaign appearance last week, Hawley urged the General Assembly to give his office the power to compel testimony in Sunshine Law investigations. We strongly support that effort.

While they’re at it, legislators should clarify the uses of “executive privilege” by the governor. That’s another dodge used in the Confide investigation: The governor’s representatives hinted they would claim the privilege if pressed by the attorney general’s office.

There does not appear to be any language in Missouri law permitting such a claim.

Moore said the office didn’t push back against executive privilege for fear of a court test that would establish boundaries for its use. That’s absurd.

Missourians should know what any governor can and cannot hide, including whether executive privilege even exists in the state. The attorney general’s office should want that answer as quickly as possible.

If courts can’t provide it, the state legislature must.

There are other reasons to distrust the outcome of the attorney general’s Confide investigation. The Springfield News-Leader reported last week that a lawyer connected to Greitens’ criminal case sat in on the interviews with the governor’s staff. That’s highly unusual, and clearly contaminates the final results.

Moore said the interviews were truthful. “I detected no signs of evasion, no shiftiness of eyes, no hesitation, nothing that would indicate they were lying,” he told reporters.

Keep those tips in mind if you’re ever under legal scrutiny. Keep your eyes steady, talk firmly, and you too can walk out the door.

Greitens’ assault on the public’s right to know is ceaseless. Monday, his lawyers asked a court to accelerate the date of his criminal trial, and to eliminate the jury. The goal is clear: The less the public knows about his dalliance with a St. Louis woman, the better.

Similarly, a lawsuit involving Confide is working its way through the courts. That case should go to trial. That way, the public can see the governor and his aides under oath — and judge for themselves if any eyes are shifting.

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