Private attorneys are helping Gov. Eric Greitens fend off criminal charges in St. Louis, stave off impeachment in the statehouse, fight subpoenas to his political nonprofit and combat a lawsuit alleging he conspired to violate the state’s open-records laws.
As the governor’s legal and political woes pile up, the attorneys he and his office have hired are drawing increasing scrutiny and criticism from those who worry state resources could be benefiting Greitens personally.
Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican like Greitens, had his office send a letter to the governor Thursday doubling down on his assertion that the governor’s office illegally hired two private attorneys to help it navigate possible impeachment in the Missouri House.
Ross Garber, a D.C.-based attorney who has previously represented three governors in other states who faced impeachment, and Edward Greim, a Kansas City-based attorney working for the law firm of Missouri GOP Chairman Todd Graves, were hired to work for the governor’s office, not Greitens personally.
But Hawley’s office has called that relationship into question, arguing that Garber and Greim are actually acting in the personal and private interests of the governor. On Thursday the attorney general's office went a step further, saying in a letter to the governor’s general counsel that it is also illegal to use state funds to finance impeachment defense.
The Missouri Ethics Commission has “long held that the costs of defending against impeachment are not incurred in connection with the duties of an office holder but instead constitute a personal use,” the attorney general's letter said.
Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, also has publicly questioned the hiring of Garber and Greim.
"I continue to have questions about the use of taxpayer dollars to pay these private attorneys and will pursue answers," Galloway said.
State Treasurer Eric Schmitt, a Republican, said he also is monitoring the situation because his office pays bills for the state.
Hawley's office also is questioning whether Greim has professional conflicts that should disqualify him from representing the governor’s office.
Greim represents a group called Free and Fair Election Fund, which is currently suing the Missouri Ethics Commission. He also represents a group called Missouri Alliance for Freedom in a lawsuit against the state auditor's office.
“A lawsuit against a state agency challenging its official conduct is a lawsuit against the state,” said Mary Compton, Hawley’s press secretary. "An attorney typically cannot both represent the state and be adverse to the state at the same time.”
Greim dismissed any concerns that his other clients represent a conflict with his current work for the governor's office. He said he's spoken with the attorney general's office many times over the last few months, and this question has never been raised.
His firm's client is the office of the fovernor and the governor in his official capacity, Greim said, "which in the context of this case is distinct from the state as a whole."
"By taking on this engagement of the governor’s office," Greim said, "we do not suddenly assume a duty to the state auditor, the Missouri Ethics Commission, or every other arm or instrumentality of the state."
Taxpayers also are paying two lawyers to defend the governor’s office against a lawsuit alleging Greitens and his staff conspired to circumvent the state’s open-records law by using an app called Confide.
Confide allows someone to send a text message that automatically erases after it is read. It also prevents anyone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of the text, raising concerns among government transparency advocates.
The lawsuit was filed in late December by St. Louis attorneys Mark Pedroli and Ben Sansone.
This week the two attorneys representing the governor’s office — Barbara Smith and Robert Thompson of the Bryan Cave law firm — filed a motion to halt the discovery process in the case, which if granted would stop Pedroli and Sansone from receiving documents, issuing subpoenas and conducting depositions.
The governor's attorneys asked the judge to stop the discovery process until 30 days after any "legislative proceedings" end. Lawmakers are convened in a special session to consider whether to impeach the governor and remove him from office.
A subpoena to Confide Inc. seeking records to reconstruct messages sent using the app would be the only thing that would be allowed to move forward.
Pedroli said Smith and Thompson are supposed to be representing the interests of the state. Yet by trying to push proceedings beyond the special session, he says, they are clearly focused on Greitens' personal interests as he's facing impeachment.
“They do not want us talking to witnesses and getting to the bottom of this,” Pedroli said. “The state has no possible interest in a stay of discovery. The state's only interest should be getting the truth in a timely manner. Getting the truth and getting it now.”
Smith and Thompson were granted permission to represent the governor by the attorney general’s office, which recused itself from defending the governor’s office in the Confide lawsuit because at the time it was conducting its own investigation of Greitens’ Confide use.
Pedroli has suggested that the attorney general's office step in on behalf of the state and order that the motion to delay discovery be withdrawn.
The governor's office attorneys contend the lawsuit was filed to obtain texts sent using Confide. If the texts can be obtained through the subpoena of Confide Inc., then no other discovery will be needed.
"We asked that the court sequence discovery by allowing plaintiff to proceed with discovery in the one place where the documents might actually exist, with Confide," Thompson said. "We proposed that the remaining discovery occur later, and it of course may not be necessary at all if Confide has produced the documents in question. "
Thompson noted that he also has asked the court to issue an order precluding the use of Confide to discuss government business.
Compton, the attorney general's spokeswoman, said in case where the AG has withdrawn from representing a client due to a potential conflict of interest, "we typically do not attempt to dictate litigation strategy to conflict counsel for ethical reasons. However, conflict counsel do have an obligation to represent the interests of the State, not the interests of any particular individual.”
Meanwhile, a House committee investigating alleged misconduct by the governor as a precursor to possible impeachment is publicly sparring with Greitens’ attorneys that are not being paid by the state.
Ed Dowd, a member of Greitens criminal defense team, got into a heated back and forth Thursday with the committee's chairman, Republican Rep. Jay Barnes, over documents the committee had asked for but not received and about whether Greitens will testify to the committee.
The tension continued into Friday, when Barnes exploded during a committee hearing after discovering that the governor's attorneys had provided one member of the committee with documents that it had refused to turn over to the whole committee. He said that Dowd "has spent the last three months lying to this committee. You know what you call someone who lies? A liar."
Dowd, who has said his firm is paid by Greitens personally, joined with Garber and Greim to draft a letter Wednesday asking the committee to issue subpoenas to developers and a bank connected the low-income housing tax credit program. Greitens has suggested that Missouri’s tax credit industry has conspired to exacerbate his legal problems after his appointees voted to stop issuing low-income housing tax credits last year.
Thursday, Catherine Hanaway, a former Republican House speaker who is representing the governor’s campaign and his political nonprofit, accused Barnes of withholding evidence that could be favorable to the governor. Hanaway is also not paid by the state.
Missouri lawmakers are relying on Barnes to "get to the truth and the facts before they take the most important vote of their careers," Hanaway said. "They cannot afford to get this wrong."
Chip Robertson, a former state Supreme Court chief justice who serves as special counsel to the House committee, responded with a blistering statement accusing Hanaway of conspiring with Greitens’ criminal defense team.
"Ms. Hanaway surely knows," Robertson said, "that her coordinated efforts with Greitens’ criminal defense counsel raise the specter that she, not the committee, is at the heart of a conspiracy to hide the truth."