Government & Politics

Audit: Greitens cost Missouri taxpayers $200K to defend use of vanishing message app

How an app on former Gov. Greitens’ phone made a paper trail impossible

With Confide, messages can’t be saved, so it’s impossible to know whether former Gov. Eric Greitens and his senior staff were using it to conduct state business out of the public eye.
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With Confide, messages can’t be saved, so it’s impossible to know whether former Gov. Eric Greitens and his senior staff were using it to conduct state business out of the public eye.

Missouri taxpayers spent $201,300 in the months before former Gov. Eric Greitens’ resignation to defend his use of the self-destructing text message app Confide, according to a report Wednesday from state Auditor Nicole Galloway.

The money, Galloway said, paid for private attorneys to represent the governor’s office in a lawsuit alleging Greitens and his staff used Confide to subvert Missouri’s open records laws.

Most of the money came from the governor’s office, the report said, but $22,900 was paid by the state legal expense fund administered by the attorney general’s office.

Although a Cole County judge recently dismissed the Confide-related counts in the lawsuit, the court case is still ongoing — 15 months after Greitens resigned from office. Because Galloway’s report covers only Greitens’ time in office, it is unclear how much the state has spent on the lawsuit since he resigned in June 2018.

Neither the governor’s office nor the attorney general’s office immediately responded to requests for information about expenses subsequent to Greitens’ departure.

Wednesday’s report was a routine audit, conducted anytime a statewide official leaves office.

Galloway, a Democrat running for governor in 2020, did not delve into the litany of scandals that eventually led to Greitens’ resignation.

Instead, the report largely focused on several issues flagged in audits of previous administrations.

For example, Galloway said the governor’s office did not ensure that fees charged for events held in the Governor’s Mansion by outside entities were sufficient to fully recover costs. As noted in three previous audits, Galloway also said the governor’s office did not take adequate measures to minimize travel costs or follow state travel policy.

The report said Greitens’ official calendar was not always maintained in a detailed manner.

Although it mentioned legal fees associated with the Confide lawsuit, the auditor’s office did not investigate Greitens’ use of Confide.

Steph Perkins, Galloway’s spokeswoman, said audits “do not typically investigate matters that are pending litigation.”

The Star first revealed in late 2017 that Greitens and his senior staff were using Confide, an app that automatically deletes a text message after it has been read.

The use of the app in the governor’s office alarmed transparency advocates, who feared it could be used to skirt the requirements of Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

It was later determined that nearly every member of Greitens staff, including the governor himself, had a Confide account. Greitens admitted he used Confide to communicate with staff, but denied he or his office violated any laws.

A pair of St. Louis County attorneys sued the Governor’s office shortly after The Star’s report.

The attorney general’s office normally would defend a state agency when it is sued. But then-Attorney General Josh Hawley was conducting his own investigation into Greitens’ Confide use.

So instead, Greitens was permitted to hire private attorneys.

Initially, the law firm that Greitens picked – Dowd Bennett – agreed to waive any fees. The firm was also representing Greitens in a felony case in St. Louis.

The Bryan Cave law firm in Kansas City took over the case in March 2018 and charged $140 an hour to the state’s legal expense fund.

The firm continues to represent Parson’s office in the ongoing litigation.

The auditor also did not look into allegations that Greitens improperly used taxpayer-funded staff to create content for his campaign’s social media accounts.

The Star obtained numerous emails showing Greitens’ state employees crafting posts during work hours for a Facebook page Greitens repeatedly argued was not his official government account.

Both state and federal law prohibit any use of public resources for personal or political purposes.

The attorney general’s office, first under Republican Josh Hawley and then under Republican Eric Schmitt, looked into the allegations.

Schmitt closed that investigation in May without taking any action.

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Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.