Impeachment, removal: Here’s what Greitens could face
If accusations of blackmail, sexual coercion and physical violence during a 2015 extramarital affair become part of the grounds for impeaching Gov. Eric Greitens, then the woman who made them should testify publicly and be subject to cross-examination, lawyers representing the governor’s office said Wednesday.
Lawmakers are set to convene in special session at 6:30 p.m. Friday to consider whether accusations of criminal wrongdoing by the governor warrant impeachment.
Among the things lawmakers could weigh as they ponder possible impeachment are allegations that during a 2015 affair, Greitens tied up and blindfolded a woman, then took a nude photo without her consent and threatened to release it if she spoke about their relationship.
The woman has testified behind closed doors to a Missouri House committee investigating the governor. She told lawmakers under oath that during the 2015 affair, Greitens hit her on three occasions and coerced her into unwanted sexual encounters.
A transcript of her testimony to the House committee and a deposition with the St. Louis prosecutor’s office have been released. But thus far her identity has not been revealed publicly.
Ross Garber, a Washington, D.C., attorney hired by the governor’s office to help fend off the push for impeachment, said he’s open to discussing possible mechanisms that could address concerns about witness confidentiality.
But to ensure the public has confidence in the process and the outcome, Garber said, all testimony should be conducted in the open.
“What we’re talking about here is potentially undoing an election,” Garber said, later adding: “There should be public testimony if it’s going to be relied upon to undo an election.”
Edward Greim, a Kansas City-based attorney who was also hired to represent the governor’s office in any impeachment proceedings, agreed.
“The baseline,” he said, “is that someone should testify in public if we’re going to be using that testimony for impeachment.”
Greitens was indicted in February on one felony count of invasion of privacy stemming from the woman’s accusations. She would have likely testified publicly this week at his criminal trial, but the St. Louis circuit attorney dropped the invasion of privacy charge with the intent to ask a special prosecutor to take over the case.
The woman’s accusations are not the only things that could lead to impeachment in the House.
Greitens is charged with a second felony in St. Louis related to accusations that he stole and misused a list of donors belonging to The Mission Continues, a veterans charity he founded in 2007. And related to that charge is an allegation by the Missouri attorney general that Greitens knowingly filed false campaign finance disclosure reports to the Missouri Ethics Commission, a Class A misdemeanor.
The attorney general is also investigating whether Greitens’ refusal to turn over documents related to his social media use violated Missouri’s open records law. And the governor is facing a lawsuit in Cole County accusing him of using a self-destructing text message app to circumvent the state’s open records law.
On Wednesday morning, Garber and Greim appeared before the Special Investigative Committee on Oversight, a panel created by House Speaker Todd Richardson to investigate allegations of criminal wrongdoing against the governor.
During a contentious hearing, the two were grilled by Republican and Democratic lawmakers over how much the state is paying them for their services, their connection to the governor’s privately funded criminal defense team and other ties they may have to entities associated with the governor.
Garber is being paid $320 an hour and Greim $340 an hour. Both are being paid out of the governor’s office budget. The state auditor has requested information about their contracts, as has Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican chairing the House investigative committee.
The Star also filed open records requests for the contracts last week. The governor’s office responded Tuesday by asking for five business days to “gather responsive, non-privileged records.”
The purpose for Garber and Greim’s appearance before the committee was to lay out their proposal for how the upcoming special session should play out.
“What we want,” Greim told the committee, “is to put in place a process that we can all be proud of later.”
Garber, who has previously represented three governors in other states who have faced impeachment proceedings, said the precedent set by the committee will have ramifications that will be felt for years to come.
The governor’s office is asking for a process that provides advance notice of any witnesses or evidence, as well as allows its attorneys to present evidence, cross-examine any witnesses who testify and request that the House issue subpoenas on their behalf.
Ultimately, if the House moves to impeach, the trial over whether Greitens is removed from office will take place in front of seven judges selected by the Senate, Garber noted. And that process is much more rigorous.
“But that doesn’t mean what this committee is doing isn’t of overwhelming importance," he said.
Barnes said the committee is committed to moving forward in a fair and transparent manner. But he was insistent that the process should include testimony from Greitens.
“We’re begging to hear from the governor,” Barnes said. “He’s refused multiple pleadings to appear and testify before us.”
Barnes went so far as to tell Garber and Greim that he’d get down on his knees and say “please, please, please” if it would result in Greitens coming before the committee.
Neither Garber nor Greim could say definitively whether Greitens would testify.
“That’s going to be an issue for the governor and his personal attorney," Garber said.