The chairman of the Missouri House committee investigating Gov. Eric Greitens said Thursday that he's spoken with the FBI about accusations that the governor's campaign sought contributions from foreign donors.
Republican Rep. Jay Barnes of Jefferson City said he spoke with the FBI earlier this year after the committee heard the testimony of Michael Hafner, a former Greitens campaign staffer who eventually went to work for one of the governor’s rivals for the 2016 GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Hafner told the House committee that the Greitens campaign discussed how to bundle donations and conceal the identity of donors by funneling them through LLCs. He also said the campaign discussed raising money from foreign donors, which would violate a federal law that prohibits campaigns from knowingly accepting money from foreign nationals.
Barnes said he contacted federal law enforcement about the accusation.
Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri House speaker representing the governor's campaign and political nonprofit, released a statement calling the allegations "completely false," adding that they are "based exclusively on the dubious testimony of a single witness."
"Neither Chairman Barnes nor that witness have provided any proof or evidence," Hanaway said. "And yet, Chairman Barnes — entrusted with the sacred responsibility of finding facts, not prosecuting a case — shared information with law enforcement before a full review of the matter."
Hafner responded by releasing a statement on Twitter that said, "I had direct conversations regarding foreign contributions with very high net worth individuals that Eric Greitens connected me with. It’s a fact, not 'dubious testimony.' "
The revelation that Barnes spoke with the FBI came as part of the committee's questioning of Al Watkins, a St. Louis attorney representing the ex-husband of Greitens’ alleged victim. Watkins told the committee Thursday that he was told by Missouri newspaper publisher Scott Faughn that $100,000 Watkins was given in January came from a wealthy, out-of-state Republican with a grudge against the governor.
Watkins told lawmakers that on Jan. 8, 2018, Faughn paid him $50,000 in cash. The next day, someone named “Skyler or Striker” paid him another $50,000 in cash in a Federal Express box.
“Both of those payments were understood by me, by virtue of what was told to me by Mr. Faughn expressly, that the source of the two payments was a wealthy Republican,” Watkins said, later adding that Faughn said the donor's relationship with the governor was “personal" and that the donor lived outside Missouri.
News of the governor’s 2015 affair and allegations that he took a nude photo of the woman without her consent and tried to use it to blackmail her into silence became public Jan. 10.
Watkins said there was a push to get the story out on that day, when Greitens gave his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature, to “make as much noise as possible.”
He got an additional $20,000 from Faughn, Watkins said, half of which was to help him get his family out of town following a "credible act of intimidation." He declined to specify what happened.
"I told Scott, 'I gotta get my family out of town,' " Watkins said.
Watkins’ testimony differs from Faughn’s version of events, which he laid out to the committee under oath Wednesday. Faughn said that the $100,000 was his money and that he paid Watkins to acquire a secret recording made by Watkins’ client in 2015 of his ex-wife confessing her affair with Greitens.
Faughn said he planned to use the recordings as part of his research for an upcoming book.
Committee members made it clear Wednesday they didn’t believe Faughn’s story. Lying to the committee would be perjury, a Class E felony.
Faughn did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. He attributed the difference between his story and Watkins' as a misunderstanding.
Greitens’ legal team has previously implied that the money Faughn delivered to Watkins is linked to business interests angry about the governor’s decision to suspend a low-income housing tax credit program.
Faughn was questioned Wednesday about his advertisers, including Sterling Bank, a Poplar Bluff, Mo., bank that is highly involved in low-income housing tax credits and is a sponsor of Faughn’s weekly television show, “This Week In Missouri Politics.”
Faughn, also from Poplar Bluff, testified he had no knowledge about whether the bank was involved with the low-income housing industry.
Watkins said Thursday that he didn’t know who the source of the money was and he “didn’t give a rat’s ass” about where the money ultimately came from. He also said his client was offered money by The Daily Mirror for his story, which he turned down.
He also said he has been in contact with the FBI about Greitens since 2016 and that he sent a photograph of the money he got from Faughn to an FBI agent after receiving it in January.
Barnes said he first learned that Watkins had received cash payments when he spoke with the FBI about the allegations about Greitens seeking foreign donors. Hanaway said Barnes should have disclosed this before.
"Has he withheld other information from the record, his fellow committee members, and the public?" she said. "What else will Chairman Barnes abruptly remember to disclose that he knows, or has done, related to this matter?"
Barnes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.