Government & Politics

Revised policy bans Greitens’ staff from using secret texting app for public business

How an app on former Gov. Greitens’ phone made a paper trail impossible

With Confide, messages can’t be saved, so it’s impossible to know whether former Gov. Eric Greitens and his senior staff were using it to conduct state business out of the public eye.
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With Confide, messages can’t be saved, so it’s impossible to know whether former Gov. Eric Greitens and his senior staff were using it to conduct state business out of the public eye.

Gov. Eric Greitens has revised his office’s record retention policy to specifically prohibit staff from using a secret text messaging app to conduct public business.

The Kansas City Star reported in early December that Greitens and the senior staff in his office were using an app called Confide, which allows someone to send a text message that automatically erases after it is read. It also prevents someone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of the text, raising concerns among government transparency advocates that the app could be used to subvert the state’s open records laws.

The governor is under investigation by the attorney general’s office, which is trying to determine whether the governor and his staff were illegally destroying public records by using Confide. And two St. Louis attorneys sued Greitens in Cole County Circuit Court, alleging that use of the app constituted an ongoing conspiracy to violate Missouri’s open records laws.

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed that the governor’s office revised its record retention policy on Jan. 17. The policy now includes a provision stating that “no staff member may use any self-destructing messaging application to conduct public business, whether it be on a state-issued or personal device.”

Parker Briden, the governor’s spokesman, said in an email to The Star that it has always been the policy of the governor’s office to retain all materials required to be kept by law, “regardless of the medium on which those materials are sent or received.”

“After baseless media reports to the contrary,” Briden said, “and to dispel any notion that this was not the case, the office decided to explicitly reiterate its policy on records retention as it pertains to the use of messaging applications such as Confide.”

When The Star first reported use of Confide, the governor had an account connected to his personal cell phone, as did his chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, director of cabinet affairs, legislative director, deputy director of legislative affairs, policy adviser and press secretary.

Last month, most of those accounts appeared to have been deleted and were no longer listed on the app as being connected to the staff members’ phone numbers.

Greitens still has an account.

Briden said in his email that the governor doesn’t believe he has the authority to ban his staff from using Confide for personal business.

Last month a Cole County judge refused to issue a restraining order prohibiting use of Confide or other text-destroying apps by the governor and his staff. The two St. Louis attorneys who sued the governor argued that allowing personal use of Confide creates a loophole that could allow staff to avoid disclosure of their communications under the Sunshine Law.

The governor’s attorney has argued the case has no merit and has asked the judge to dismiss it.

The attorney general’s investigation is ongoing.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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