Al Watkins leaves court after deposition
Al Watkins, the lawyer who has represented the ex-husband of the woman involved in an affair with Gov. Eric Greitens, received $50,000 from Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn, according to Greitens' legal team.
Jim Martin, one of Greitens' lawyers, said in court Monday afternoon that Watkins testified during a two-hour deposition that he had received $50,000 from Faughn. Another $50,000 came from a courier identified only as Skyler, Martin said.
Martin described Faughn as a "highly motivated political individual" and said his publication "has been trashing Mr. Greitens for months.”
Faughn has been particularly critical of Greitens' position that low-income housing tax credits are wasteful.
"Faughn has been concerned with a group that has had tax credits taken away," Martin said.
Defense attorneys also want Watkins to divulge the original source of the money — suggesting that someone gave it to Faughn to pass along to Watkins — and the motivations behind the payments.
Chuck Hatfield, the attorney for Watkins, questioned the relevancy of that question.
"We're pretty far away from the elements of this crime," Hatfield said. He added that information on the source and motivation would be covered under attorney-client privilege.
Judge Rex Burlison disagreed and said Watkins would have to answer during a continued deposition.
Hatfield said he would appeal the decision on Tuesday.
Watkins, who is usually outspoken, would not comment on Monday.
"I'm a witness now," he said. "I have to be respectful of the rules witnesses are operating under in this case."
A spokeswoman for Greitens said the $50,000 cash payment was in support of "this campaign of false accusations against the governor."
"Today we also learned that $50,000 in cash was delivered to one of the attorneys of the couple making accusations against the governor by Scott Faughn, a member of the media who has extensive ties to the governor’s political opponents," said Maria Jeffrey, spokeswoman for Greitens' legal defense team. "We hope that the House committee will investigate the payoffs of the people who are working to take down the governor. The governor's team will certainly be doing so."
The House committee that has been investigating allegations of wrongdoing against Greitens plans to subpoena Faughn to question him about the $50,000 payment.
Faughn said Monday afternoon in a video statement that he had retained Watkins in connection to research he was doing for a book about the 2016 Missouri election season and the political events that have followed.
He said he had obtained tapes, presumably of the woman's confession to her ex-husband, but had not published it before a St. Louis television station first aired the affair and blackmail allegations against Greitens in January.
"When I retained him it worked out and so when I went to do this, by the time I had something I could use, the story was already out there," Faughn said.
Watkins said last week that he received the payments "concurrently" with an interview his client did with the St. Louis television station. When asked directly by a reporter last week whether the money came from low-income housing tax credit developers, Watkins said he didn't know.
A judge last week ordered Watkins to sit for a deposition with Greitens' attorneys, who had successfully argued that the origins of Watkins' legal payments were relevant to an upcoming criminal trial in which Greitens is accused of felony invasion of privacy.
Watkins told reporters that he had received $100,000 in payments, but would not disclose the source. As recently as Monday morning, Hatfield had tried to convince the Missouri Supreme Court to halt the deposition. The court refused the request.
Greitens is scheduled to go on trial in May after a February indictment in which he's accused of taking a compromising photo of the woman in 2015 and threatening to release it if she discussed Greitens with anyone else. Greitens has admitted to the affair but has denied the blackmail accusation.
Faughn has long been a critic of Greitens, dating back to the 2016 campaign. But his criticism escalated after the governor made cutting low-income housing tax credits one of his top priorities.
In November, the Missouri Housing Development Commission, or MHDC, voted not to allocate $140 million in funding for the Missouri Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, a decision that developers assailed as a major hurdle in financing affordable housing.
Greitens, who said at the time that the tax program was inefficient, is one of the MHDC commissioners.
Faughn also hosts a television show called "This Week in Missouri Politics." The show's sponsors include Sterling Bank, a Poplar Bluff bank highly involved in low-income housing tax credit projects. Faughn, who is pro-labor, also has sponsorships for his show from Spire, a natural gas company, and Kansas City Power & Light.
Faughn founded the Missouri Times with Rod Jetton, a former Missouri House speaker. Jetton is no longer formally associated with the Missouri Times.
Faughn ran into trouble with the Missouri Capitol Press Association in 2015 after a report in the Columbia Tribune that described parties that Faughn held in his Jefferson City apartment for lawmakers that included lobbyist-purchased liquor, beer and snacks. Those purchases were never disclosed to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Before entering journalism, Faughn was elected mayor of Poplar Bluff in 2002. In 2004, he left the mayor's office to become executive vice president of the Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce.