Gov. Eric Greitens' attorneys on Thursday asked a judge to remove Attorney General Josh Hawley from an investigation of the governor's use of a charity's donor list, arguing that Hawley's campaign for U.S. Senate is affecting his conduct.
Jim Bennett, the governor's private defense attorney, said Hawley's call for Greitens' resignation on April 11 should disqualify him from carrying on with his investigation into whether Greitens illegally obtained and used a donor list from a veterans charity for political fundraising.
Bennett asked Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem to appoint a special prosecutor to replace Hawley, look into the evidence and make a determination.
“We are not attempting to prevent any scrutiny of any conduct,” Bennett said in court Thursday. “If a fair look was given to these matters, no action would be taken.”
Bennett also mentioned Hawley's run for Senate, suggesting that the attorney general's political campaign is affecting the investigation and causing Hawley to make public statements. Those public comments are damaging Greitens' ability to get a fair trial, Bennett said, both on charges surrounding the charity donor list and a separate felony charge for invasion of privacy.
Hawley’s office has been investigating Greitens’ use of a donor list belonging to The Mission Continues since late February. It turned over what it said was evidence of criminal misconduct to the St. Louis circuit attorney earlier this month.
Greitens was charged last week by the circuit attorney's office with a felony count of computer tampering related to allegations that he improperly obtained the donor list from The Mission Continues, a veterans charity he founded in 2007, and used it to solicit campaign donations.
The governor has denied any criminal wrongdoing.
The attorney general’s call for Greitens' resignation followed the release of a Missouri House investigative committee's report that contained claims of sexual coercion and violence against a woman with whom Greitens had an extramarital affair. Hawley said upon release of the report that the allegations it contained were impeachable offenses.
Hawley has said his call for the governor's resignation had nothing to do with his investigation of The Mission Continues, and thus the call for him to recuse himself is unfounded.
Solicitor General John Sauer, appearing on behalf of the attorney general’s office Thursday, said the governor is trying to block the investigation into the charity and is asking the court to do something it doesn’t have the authority to do — disqualify Hawley from the investigation.
It is commonplace for a prosecutor to come to a belief that the person they are investigating is guilty, Sauer said. For the attorney general to say there is probable cause to think the governor committed criminal acts, and then refer that evidence to the proper authorities, does not disqualify him from the case, Sauer said.
Sauer also said the suggestion that Hawley's Senate campaign is affecting his conduct as attorney general is "not supported by the evidence."
"The attorney general has shown leadership and courage by calling on governor to resign after release of the House report," Sauer said. "Other statewide elected officials, I won't name any names, aren’t showing that at this time."
The only statewide elected officials who have not yet spoke publicly about the allegations against Greitens are Treasurer Eric Schmitt and Secretary of State John Ashcroft.
The judge made no ruling Thursday.
In St. Louis on Thursday, a judge ruled that Greitens’ legal team cannot depose the former chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party ahead of the governor's felony trial in May for invasion of privacy.
Roy Temple, the former state Democratic chairman and longtime strategist, has been an outspoken critic of Greitens. The case is based on an allegation that Greitens tried to keep the woman with whom he had an affair from speaking about it by photographing her without her consent while she was partly nude and bound.
Greitens’ attorneys sought to depose Temple in the case, but Judge Rex Burlison rejected the request. Temple’s attorney, Joe Bednar, said Temple was not in the basement when the affair happened and has no knowledge of payments to Al Watkins, the attorney for the woman's ex-husband.
Watkins, who released a recording of the woman talking about Greitens, revealed this week that he had received $100,000 in anonymous cash payments before the allegations against the governor became public.
“From the very beginning of this matter, the governor has attempted to somehow make this my fault,” Temple said when reached by phone.
“I think the governor as a PR strategy wants to spend a lot of time talking about how he got caught and does not want to talk about what he did or didn’t do in the basement of his family home.”
Temple filed a complaint in March against Greitens with the Missouri Ethics Commission, alleging that the Republican governor lied about how his campaign obtained a donor list from his charity, The Mission Continues. The complaint is pending.
The judge also ruled Thursday that a deposition must continue for investigator William Don Tisaby, who was hired by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's office. Greitens’ attorneys have accused Tisaby of committing perjury in a previous deposition.
Tisaby invoked his Fifth Amendment rights during deposition, declining to answer at least 50 questions from the defense. Wooten said Tisaby intends to invoke Fifth Amendment rights across the board.
Scott Rosenblum, a member of Greitens' team, said Tisaby's "involvement has affected everything in this case."