Publisher won’t say where he got money he delivered to lawyer involved in Greitens case
To mark his one-year anniversary in office, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson sat down for a celebratory interview with the pundit who contributed to the political downfall of his predecessor.
In a largely fawning, 13-minute interview on This Week in Missouri Politics, neither host Scott Faughn, nor Parson, mentioned the circumstances under which Parson rose from lieutenant governor to governor, or Faughn’s role in the scandal that brought down then-Gov. Eric Greitens.
“Good to be here, Scott, good to be here,” Parson told Faughn as the pair launched into a discussion of severe weather affecting the state and Parson’s legislative accomplishments.
Before the allegations against Greitens became public, Faughn delivered thousands of dollars in cash to the St. Louis attorney representing the ex-husband of Greitens’ alleged victim – a breach of journalism ethics.
“Given his discreditable behavior, it is surprising that the governor of Missouri would lend legitimacy to Faughn,” said Phill Brooks, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, who has covered the statehouse since 1972 for a variety of outlets.
Faughn did not return a phone call Friday.
Steele Shippy, Parson’s spokesman, disputed the notion that there was anything unusual or problematic about the governor’s decision to appear on Faughn’s program.
“We accept as many interview requests as we can to make sure the governor can speak to as many Missourians as possible. People see and hear news on many different platforms,” Shippy said.
Shippy compared the governor’s appearance on This Week in Missouri Politics to agreeing to an interview with The Star or The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Our doors are open for members of the press to come and ask questions and we don’t ask every time somebody comes in the door, ‘Who are your advertisers this week?’” Shippy said. “And we’re not going to withhold access because of a particular issue.”
But Faughn’s payment to the attorney who publicized the allegations against Greitens remains a source of controversy.
The ex-husband secretly recorded his former wife detailing how Greitens allegedly photographed her nude without consent to keep her from speaking about an extramarital affair. She later tell a Missouri House investigative panel that her first sexual encounter with the governor was not consensual.
The recordings formed the basis of an explosive story by KMOV-TV that aired shortly after Greitens’ 2018 State of the State Address. It spurred calls for his resignation, launched a criminal investigation and triggered legislative inquiries.
Faughn personally delivered $50,000 in cash to Al Watkins, the ex-husband’s lawyer, before the audio became public.
He told a Missouri House panel last year that one of his employees delivered an additional $50,000 payment to the ex-husband but that he could not remember the employee’s name, a claim lawmakers called mind-boggling.
Faughn kept the payments secret for months while continuing to cover Greitens on his show and in his newspaper, The Missouri Times.
Watkins has speculated that the cash came from a GOP donor who wanted to oust Greitens and said his understanding was the money was meant to help his client deal with the fallout from the story becoming public.
Faughn has maintained that the money came from his own bank account and that he paid Watkins in the course of researching a book. He paid Watkins an additional $20,000 – on top of the six figures for the audio – to retain him as an attorney, Faughn testified last year.
The original source of the money remains a point of contention in Jefferson City.
State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick said there was merit to questioning Faughn and would support a legislative inquiry to determine the source of the money. The investigation into the matter halted last year after Greitens’ resignation.
“Obviously, I said at the time, I wanted to know and I think people deserve to know (where the money came from), I just don’t have a way to make that happen myself,” Fitzpatrick said, before Parson’s appearance on the show.
Though Fitzpatrick appeared on Faughn’s show earlier in the year, he said he didn’t ask Faughn about the source of the money directly because it wasn’t the appropriate venue.
“It’s hard to blame those actions on anybody but (Gov. Eric Greitens) but if you had to point to who’s responsible for that information becoming public, I think it’s fair to say Scott had something to do with that, absolutely,” Fitzpatrick said.
Faughn’s book has never been released, but the audio rocked Missouri politics when it became widely circulated throughout the media.
Faughn has denied any role in the initial KMOV report that triggered a criminal indictment against Greitens for felony invasion of privacy and legislative hearings.
Greitens’ claimed at the time that his decision to eliminate a tax credit for low-income housing had fueled the effort to oust him. Parson has been a long-time supporter of the tax credit, but it has yet to be restored.
Lawmakers questioned Faughn about the involvement of one of his show’s advertisers, Sterling Bank in Poplar Bluff, in the low-income housing industry. But Faughn testified before the Missouri House that he was unaware of this fact and denied that any business associates instructed him to deliver the money to Watkins.
The disclosure of Faughn’s payment to Watkins led to the expulsion of The Missouri Times, from the Missouri Capitol News Association, the organization which controls office space for news outlets at the statehouse.
“He’s not apologized for being a bagman or fully explained his actions,” said Brooks, who currently serves as the director of Missouri Digital News.
Brooks noted that no member of the association voted against Faughn’s expulsion. The Star, which belongs to the association, supported the measure.
Parson previously appeared on Faughn’s show in August of 2018, shortly after he took the reins of Missouri state government, and accepted the Statesman of the Year award in January at a lobbyist-funded event hosted by Faughn’s newspaper.
The decision to reactivate the low-income housing program now is in Parson’s hands. Before the legislative session was over, his office said he would consider the administrative steps to turn the program back on if the legislature doesn’t pass a bill that reforms the program. The session ended May 17 without any reforms reaching Parson’s desk.
Last week, players in the low-income housing industry delivered $50,000 to a political action committee affiliated with Parson, Uniting Missouri.
Of those contributions, Sterling Bank gave $25,000.
Lowry reported from Washington.