The Missouri Republican who led efforts to investigate former Gov. Eric Greitens wants the state to refuse payment to the ex-governor's outside attorneys and argues that their fees "should be borne exclusively by Eric Greitens himself."
Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, chairs the House committee that spent all spring investigating allegations against the former governor. In a letter dated Monday, he asked Missouri Office of Administration Commissioner Sarah Steelman to refuse payment to two attorneys who were hired to help Greitens fend off possible impeachment.
The two lawyers, Ross Garber and Edward Greim, billed the state for more than $150,000 in expenses and hourly fees.
In his letter, Barnes argues that Greitens broke state law by hiring outside counsel, and he told Steelman she had "an obligation to withhold all payment to ... Garber and Greim."
"Missouri taxpayers should not be on the hook for lawyers that Eric Greitens used for his own personal purposes," Barnes said. "Accordingly, if Garber and Greim seek compensation, they should do so from Eric Greitens himself, not Missouri taxpayers."
Barnes' concerns echoed those expressed by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, and Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who has said Greitens hired the two lawyers illegally.
Hiring the lawyers violated state law, Barnes said, because Missouri law prohibits executive officials, including the governor, from entering into contracts when they know the contract will cost the state more than $500.
Barnes also argued Greitens violated his own executive order barring state employees from participating in a decision "in which the state employee's impartiality might be reasonably questioned."
"Here, Eric Greitens had an obvious personal relationship with a participant in the proceedings in question — i.e. himself," Barnes said.
The same executive order also prohibits executive branch employees from benefiting from a state contract. Barnes argued that the contract benefited Greitens.
"He benefited from what has been reported to be in excess of $150,000 in legal work," Barnes said. "Equally important, on May 30, he leveraged at least some of that work into dismissal of felony criminal charges that were pending against him in the circuit court for the city of St. Louis."
Greim said Barnes was "mixing apples and oranges" in saying Greitens benefited from the contracts with the attorneys.
"Only if you view the work that we did as a personal service or a personal benefit back to Greitens would the executive order be implicated," Greim said.
Garber and Greim said they were hired to represent the office of the governor, not Greitens personally.
Greim said his role was to argue what procedures should govern an impeachment effort.
“Whether the facts actually justify it or not — that’s no concern of mine," Greim said.
Barnes argued there is no need for an attorney to represent the office of the governor because impeachment proceedings concern the individual governor, not the position.
"When a judgment of impeachment is entered, the individual officeholder is removed from the chair, but the chair remains, and a new occupant takes his or her seat," Barnes said.
Greim called that a "false analogy." He said the office of the governor is a "bundle of rights and duties," not a chair.
“And if impeachment can happen as haphazardly and as quickly as the committee wanted it to occur, the chair — that is the office of the governor — is going to emerge much diminished," Greim said. "It’ll be like sawing the legs off the chair. That’s what we were trying to avoid.”
Garber, who is based in Washington, D.C., has repeatedly defended his hiring, saying it's appropriate for a state to pay for an attorney to represent the office of the governor in impeachment. He said he teaches a law school class on impeachment and doesn't "know of anyone who's been involved as a lawyer in more American impeachments."
“Mr. Barnes is wrong," Garber said. "I would urge him to review the history of impeachments, and he will see that an impeachment affects the separation and balance of powers and is not about — and its effects are not limited to the current occupant of an office."
Garber said that's why President Bill Clinton was and President Donald Trump is represented by both official and private counsel.
Governors and governors' offices each have counsel "in virtually every modern impeachment investigation," Garber argued.
Greitens' successor, Gov. Mike Parson, said during a visit to Kansas City Tuesday night that he was "well aware" of Barnes' letter and that he would be meeting with his new general counsel, Chris Limbaugh, on the issue "right off the bat" after Limbaugh officially joins the administration Thursday.
"We'll make a decision shortly after that. I want my general counsel to take a look at that," Parson said.
In the letter, Barnes cites an appeals court decision that says contracts are void when made out of the bounds of a state agency's authority.
Asked if he had any concerns about the contract being found void or his firm not being paid, Garber said he was sure the governor's office had followed appropriate procedures and the firm would be paid. Asked if his firm would consider taking action if payment were withheld, he said again that he was sure the firm would be paid.
Greim, too, said he was sure his firm would be paid. He said the firm, Graves Garrett in Kansas City, would consider taking action if it didn't receive payment, but law firms rarely have to do that.
"I wouldn't think the state of Missouri wants to start dishonoring contracts with service providers," Greim said. "I think it would be a first if this contract weren’t paid, and I think people would have to wonder whether the decision was truly based on the law and based on common sense or based on something else.”
The Missouri Office of Administration did not immediately return a request for comment.
Parson said that he plans to meet with Sarah Steelman, commissioner of the agency, after speaking with his general counsel.
The Star's Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.