Government & Politics

Hawley accuses Greitens of a felony. Dems think he could have done that a year ago

Attorney General Josh Hawley
Attorney General Josh Hawley

Allegations that Eric Greitens' gubernatorial campaign misused the donor list belonging to a veterans charity first emerged in October 2016.

They popped up again in April 2017, when Greitens finally admitted that his campaign had the list to settle a complaint that had been filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

And again a month later when a group of senators called for a special investigatory committee to look into how Greitens' campaign acquired the donor list.

With the statute of limitations set to expire in a matter of days, and Greitens already battling calls for his resignation, Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Tuesday that his office had evidence it was turning over to the St. Louis prosecutor showing Greitens stole the list — a possible felony.

Democrats pounced, attacking Hawley for not taking action sooner and arguing that he looked the other way until Greitens was too politically toxic to ignore.

“We’ve known since 2016 that Eric Greitens exploited a veterans charity,” said Stephen Webber, chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party. “Josh Hawley has had every opportunity to investigate that. It appears he’s instead decided to protect a political ally until the very last minute. He tried to cover it up until he couldn’t anymore.”

Hawley’s office dismissed the accusations, saying it does not have jurisdiction over campaign finance violations or criminal theft. In this case, its jurisdiction is limited to a charity’s use of its resources.

When evidence emerged in a Feb. 27 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article that an employee of the charity may have been involved in distributing the donor list for political purposes, the attorney general’s office opened an investigation that day, said Mary Compton, Hawley’s press secretary.

“The Attorney General is not a roving prosecutor with plenary authority to investigate any potential violation of just any law,” Compton said. “He can only act within the bounds of his jurisdiction.

“As soon as the office had evidence suggesting the charity may have misused its resources for political purposes, we opened an investigation. And that investigation ultimately uncovered evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing.”

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is under investigation by the attorney general's office over his use of a list of donors belonging to a veterans charity to benefit his 2016 campaign.

The saga plays out in the middle of what’s considered one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate campaigns in the nation, with Hawley as the GOP’s top recruit to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Democrats are eager to tie Hawley to Greitens, who is already facing a felony invasion-of-privacy charge in St. Louis and possible impeachment in the Missouri legislature. Republicans, many of whom have publicly called on Greitens to resign, are clear that the governor’s scandals could affect the fall U.S. Senate race and ultimately sabotage the party’s chance of maintaining control of the chamber.

McCaskill took the opportunity to jab Hawley on Twitter Tuesday night about his office’s explanation for why an investigation wasn’t launched until February: “The Governor admitted wrongdoing in connection with his charity in APRIL 2017. That wasn’t a sufficient heads up? Holy Cow.”

Kelli Ford, Hawley’s campaign spokesman, told The Star that McCaskill “must be shocked by Josh’s decision to take on someone in his own party because that is not something Claire McCaskill ever does in Washington.”

At the center of the back and forth is a donor list that was created on May 6, 2014, by a staffer for the charity in charge of donor records. The Excel spreadsheet was titled “All donors 1K total and up — as of 5-7-14.”

The list included more than 500 names, along with email addresses and phone numbers, for individuals who had given at least $1,000 to the charity. Those included on the list had combined to give the charity roughly $4.7 million in contributions.

The list also included names and contact information for foundations that gave an additional $4 million and corporations that gave more than $20 million.

Greitens resigned as CEO of The Mission Continues on July 4, 2014 — two months after the Excel spreadsheet was created. He filed paperwork with the state ethics commission to form an exploratory committee for a run for governor in February 2015.

Greitens didn’t step down from The Mission Continues' board until Aug. 28, 2015. He filed paperwork with the ethics commission to officially become a candidate for governor on Oct. 1, 2015.

The Associated Press broke the news in October 2016 that the Greitens campaign was using The Mission Continues’ donor list to raise money.

Donors who had previously given significant amounts to The Mission Continues gave Greitens nearly $2 million. Of the more than $525,000 Greitens raised during an initial two-month period of his campaign in early 2015, the AP found 85 percent came from donors who previously gave to The Mission Continues.

Greitens publicly denied using the charity’s donor database for his campaign, telling the AP at the time: “No, we were not working off of a Mission Continues donor list.”

The Mission Continues, a charity formed by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens before his election, would have been violating a federal prohibition if it provided its donor list to the Greitens campaign.

It was not until April 29, 2017, that Greitens finally admitted that his campaign had the donor list. As part of a consent order stemming from a complaint filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Greitens agreed to amend his March 2015 disclosure forms to reflect the list as a $600 in-kind contribution from Daniel Laub, who served as Greitens’ campaign manager.

The campaign also was required to pay a $100 fine.

In June 2017, a group of state senators asked legislative leaders to create a special investigatory committee to look into how the campaign acquired the donor list, among other issues.

At the time, a dozen experts in laws governing tax-exempt organizations told The Star that the only possible explanations were that the charity violated its nonprofit status by giving Greitens the list or that the list was stolen.

Greitens and his campaign have steadfastly refused to explain precisely how his campaign got the list.

The attorney general’s office was aware of the questions surrounding the donor list dating back to 2016, but it said it didn’t think it had jurisdiction to launch an investigation until the Feb. 27 Post-Dispatch article.

According to that article, the Greitens campaign received the donor list in a Jan. 6, 2015, email from Krystal Taylor, who at the time was working for the Greitens Group, the governor’s private company. She had previously worked at the charity at the time when the Excel spreadsheet of donors was created.

“This was the first piece of information that charity employees were involved in distributing the list for political purposes,” Compton said. “The (attorney general’s office) opened an investigation the same day as the Post-Dispatch report.”

Ultimately, Hawley’s office determined there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the charity but there was potential criminal wrongdoing by Greitens. Last Friday, a decision was made to turn the evidence over to the St. Louis prosecutor, who would have criminal jurisdiction.

Hawley’s office asked a Cole County judge for permission to turn the evidence over to the local prosecutor on Monday, and announced its findings to the public on Tuesday morning.

Webber said it’s ridiculous to believe the attorney general couldn’t get involved earlier. There was ample evidence, he said, that could have allowed Hawley to look into into whether the charity was a victim or the perpetrator of crime.

“Every single time there is corruption in Jefferson City, Josh Hawley has an excuse for why he can’t do anything about it,” he said, later adding: “If he wanted to be involved, he’s the attorney general. He has the ability to do that. Why is it that he always finds an excuse?”

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