Missouri lawmakers are set to lay out the framework for the special session convened last week to consider whether to impeach Gov. Eric Greitens.
But by ignoring most of the governor’s pitch for how impeachment should proceed, the legislative and executive branches appear to be on a collision course that will likely end up in a courtroom.
Greitens faces a litany of accusations ranging from allegations of coercive and violent sexual misconduct in 2015 to knowingly filing false campaign finance disclosure reports in 2017.
The Special Investigative Committee on Oversight, appointed by House Speaker Todd Richardson in March to look into the allegations, will discuss its proposed rules for the special session Tuesday morning.
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According to the committee’s proposal, hearings on possible impeachment will be held in public, and the governor’s attorneys will be allowed to make a presentation once all evidence is heard. Greitens’ lawyers will not be permitted to cross-examine witnesses, and the only witnesses allowed to testify will be those called by the committee.
If the committee determines that the full House should consider impeachment, the full House would be called back to Jefferson City for debate. It remains unclear when that debate might take place.
“I don’t know when the full House will be back,” Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, told reporters Friday.
Impeachment debate in the House would be limited to 10 hours, divided equally between Republicans and Democrats. If 82 of the 163 members of the House vote to impeach, the process would move to the Senate.
At that point, the Constitution lays out the steps clearly: Senators would select seven judges to oversee the trial and make the final determination on Greitens' fate. The trial could take months to begin, but ultimately if five of the seven judges vote to remove him from office, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson would take over and serve until Greitens' term expires in 2021.
Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, was appointed to serve on the House investigative committee last week. He said the state’s Constitution is “working precisely the way it's supposed to."
“It's important for Missourians to understand that impeachment does not mean conviction,” Razer told The Star last week. “Impeachment simply says that we as the House of Representatives think that there is enough smoke here that we want seven judges to look at it, have a trial and decide whether or not there's fire. That's all impeachment says.”
Ross Garber and Edward Greim, two private attorneys hired by the governor’s office to help stave off impeachment, had a different plan in mind.
Greitens’ attorneys had requested a process that more resembled a trial, with both sides presenting and cross-examining witnesses. They laid out a timeline that would have taken any impeachment proceedings right up to the June 17 deadline, when the Constitution requires the special session adjourn.
They made their case to the investigative committee that moving forward in another fashion would potentially violate Greitens' right to due process.
While they never threatened a lawsuit if their proposed rules were ignored, the implication was there.
Garber, who has represented three governors facing impeachment in other states, told the committee that he could spend all day trying to convince them that the governor has a right to due process in impeachment proceedings, "and I promise, I wouldn’t convince you. ... I can tell you that because I haven’t convinced any House that there is a right to due process. I wound up convincing a judge that was the case. But that’s not where I want to wind up being.”
The judge Garber referenced was Montgomery, Ala., Circuit Judge Greg Griffin, who last year temporarily blocked the Alabama House of Representatives from holding impeachment hearings against the state’s governor, Robert Bentley.
Garber was representing Bentley’s office during the impeachment proceedings.
The Alabama Supreme Court stayed the ruling, but before the court heard any arguments or issued a final verdict Bentley agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges and resign from office.
Neither Garber nor Greim responded to a request for comment by The Star on the Missouri House’s proposed rules.
Michael Wolff, a retired judge of the Missouri Supreme Court and former dean of St. Louis University Law School, said it is unlikely Greitens will find a sympathetic ear in the judicial system.
“The Constitution leaves it to the House to decide how to conduct impeachment,” Wolff said. “So whatever the House decides will have the presumption of legitimacy."
Frank Bowman, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law who has written extensively about the state’s impeachment process, said that despite the Alabama trial court precedent, “in general the procedures a legislative body uses to conduct its business are nonjusticiable. That fact that an impeachment looks ‘legal’ doesn’t change that.”
The only caveat, Bowman said, is that the “peculiar” Missouri system of bringing judges in to conduct the trial after impeachment “may make judges more disposed to meddle generally.”
But even if a judge or the Supreme Court would consider a lawsuit over the House’s rules, “they’d be likely to say that the House can proceed however it chooses.”
Greitens faces a felony computer tampering charge in connection with allegations that he stole a donor list from a veterans charity and used it for political fundraising during his 2016 campaign.
He also is accused of knowingly filing false reports to the state’s ethics commission pertaining to the charity’s donor list — a Class A misdemeanor — but the Cole County prosecutor announced last week he wouldn’t file charges.
A felony invasion-of-privacy charge was dropped in St. Louis last week, but Circuit Judge Rex Burlison on Monday appointed Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker as special prosecutor in that case.
The House investigative committee has accused the governor of using shell companies to funnel money into his 2016 campaign, a violation of campaign disclosure laws.
The Missouri attorney general’s office is investigating whether Greitens’ refusal to turn over documents related to his social media use violated Missouri’s open records law. And a lawsuit in Cole County accuses the governor and his staff of using a self-destructing text message app to circumvent the state’s open records law.
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.
Greitens has denied any and all criminal wrongdoing and vowed to fight off the charges and remain in office.
The Missouri Constitution says executive officeholders can be impeached for crimes, misconduct and "moral turpitude," among other things. It does not require a conviction in a criminal court.