After weeks of silence, and hours before state lawmakers convene a special session to consider impeaching Gov. Eric Greitens, Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson announced Friday that he won't file criminal charges against the governor over alleged campaign finance violations.
In a fax sent to the Jefferson City CBS affiliate, Richardson said that he was provided information by the state attorney general's office about the governor's campaign, but after "due consideration" he would not be filing the criminal charges suggested by Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Richardson then said he'd have no further comment.
Lawmakers will begin a special legislative session at 6:30 p.m. Friday to consider allegations of misconduct against the governor and potentially move toward impeachment and removal from office.
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Among the things they were weighing were the allegations that Richardson decided not to pursue.
Hawley's office had turned over evidence to Richardson that the attorney general believed was proof that Greitens had knowingly filing false campaign finance disclosure reports to the Missouri Ethics Commission, a Class A misdemeanor.
But the decision to file charges rested in the hands of Richardson, a Republican.
Mary Compton, Hawley's spokeswoman, said in a statement that the attorney general's office stands by its conclusion that enough evidence of criminal wrongdoing exists to warrant charges to be filed.
The allegations of criminal wrongdoing center on a consent decree Greitens signed in April 2017 to settle a complaint filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. In that consent decree, Greitens admitted that his campaign had failed to disclose it had obtained a donor list belonging to The Mission Continues, a veterans charity Greitens founded in 2007.
Greitens’ campaign paid a $100 fine and agreed to amend its campaign filings to show it received the donor list as an in-kind contribution from former campaign manager Danny Laub in March 2015.
Laub told the attorney general's office that he he was tricked by the governor’s political advisers into taking the blame for illegally obtaining and using the donor list. The explanation Greitens provided in the consent decree and campaign disclosure filing was a lie, Laub said.
Hawley’s office had been investigating the circumstances surrounding Greitens’ use of the donor list since late February. Last month, evidence collected by Hawley’s office led the St. Louis prosecutor to charge Greitens with one felony count of computer tampering for allegedly taking the list without the charity’s permission.
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, noted that Richardson filed criminal charges against 23 clergy members in 2016. The misdemeanor charges of trespassing and obstructing Senate business stemmed from a ay 2014 protest in the Missouri Senate against Missouri lawmakers’ decision not to expand Medicaid benefits.
"So he will file charges against ministers, primarily senior citizens, who were excising their First Amendment rights as citizens, but he won't look into potentially criminal acts of our governor?" McCann Beatty said.
She later added: “Mr. Richardson clearly has difficulty assessing threats to the integrity of state government."
Richardson took the charges to trial, and 22 ministers were convicted of first-degree trespassing but acquitted of charges of disrupting government operations. The protesters were ultimately pardoned by former Gov. Jay Nixon.
Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said Richardson "embarrassed" the Capitol and the state when he prosecuted the Medicaid protesters.
"It’s unthinkable," she said, "that Mark Richardson would try to send those ministers to jail, but refuse to even investigate the case against the governor. That’s why our people have no trust in the system. He’s awful. It’s a disgrace."
On Thursday, Greitens' campaign released a string of emails from 2015 in which the governor's campaign fundraiser, Meredith Gibbons, says she used the donor list "for fundraising purposes."
Less than a year later, in October 2016, Greitens would publicly deny he had ever used the list for fundraising purposes.
In addition to the allegations that Greitens stole The Mission Continues donor list and lied about it to the state ethics commission, lawmakers contemplating impeachment are also looking at accusations of coercive and violent sexual misconduct from a woman with whom Greitens had an affair in 2015.
A felony invasion of privacy charge in St. Louis stemming from the 2015 affair was dropped earlier this week. Greitens celebrated it as vindication, but the St. Louis circuit attorneys office says it will ask a special prosecutor to refile charges.
Greitens faces accusations that he used shell companies to conceal the identity of donors to his 2016 campaign, a violation of state campaign finance disclosure law. And he's facing a lawsuit in Cole County accusing him and his staff of using a self-destructing text message app to circumvent the state’s open records law.
Additionally, Washington University and the John Templeton Foundation are both investigating whether Greitens violated an agreement by allegedly using an academic grant to pay his political staff as he was planning his campaign for governor.