Gov. Eric Greitens received some much-needed good news Thursday when a report issued by Attorney General Josh Hawley found no evidence of wrongdoing in connection with his office’s use of a secret messaging app.
If anyone needed some good news, it’s Greitens. The year 2018 has not been kind to our governor. In January, a St. Louis television station broke the news he had an affair with his hair dresser in 2015 shortly before he launched his gubernatorial campaign.
In February, he was indicted by a St. Louis grand jury for felony invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a photo of his partially nude mistress and threatening to release it if she disclosed the affair. A few days later the Missouri House announced its own investigation into the matter, which is the first step in impeachment proceedings.
Earlier this week, stories surfaced suggesting new improprieties surrounding the governor’s campaign and its relationship with The Mission Continues, a veterans charity he founded.
The Associated Press reported Greitens used the charity’s email to help launch his campaign – a potential violation under federal law which prohibits nonprofits from wading into politics. In April 2017, Greitens’ campaign admitted an ethics violation and agreed to pay a small fine for failing to report the receipt of the charity’s donation list.
To say the embattled governor is under siege is to put it mildly. Greitens is crashing and burning in a very public way. A recent poll confirmed his predicament. The Kansas City Star reported that just 27 percent of Missourians had a favorable view of their governor, while 51 percent held the opposite view. A full majority — 53 percent — said they believed Greitens should resign.
Hawley’s report concerning the use of the secret messaging app by Greitens and his senior staff should be a salve to an administration embroiled in controversy and help chill criticism that the governor is too secretive.
Indeed, Greitens’ press office issued a gushing press release on the report portraying it as vindication that the governor has adhered to the state’s Sunshine Law and records retention law. The governor’s press secretary went even further, saying the report recognizes that “we have gone above and beyond what the law requires in the interest of transparency.”
We don’t blame the governor for running the report up the flagpole. But a careful reading of Hawley’s report doesn’t exactly dispatch the notion that there wasn’t some attempt to thwart transparency through the use of Confide, the cellphone app which automatically destroys messages after the recipient has read them.
The report states the eight senior staffers interviewed only used the app for nonsubstantive matters relating to their government employment, which aren’t required by law to be retained.
Ironically, the report acknowledges that due to the nature of the app, no documentary evidence exists to corroborate (or contradict) this testimony. If you aren’t chuckling now, you should be. Of course there is no evidence, that’s why the app exists.
It’s worth noting Greitens declined to be interviewed for the investigation, citing executive privilege. It’s also worth noting that Hawley advised against using Confide for any communications relating to public business. Makes you wonder why Greitens saw the need for the app in the first place.
Greitens may eventually have to answer that question. He has been sued by two St. Louis attorneys who allege the use of the app by the governor and his staff constitutes a conspiracy to violate Missouri’s open records laws. That promises to be a more vigorous inquiry into this matter.
Again, we can’t blame the governor for trumpeting this report, as flimsy as it may be. When you are on a losing streak, you take any win you can get.
Greitens understands this. The same day the Confide report was released, Hawley announced he was opening a new investigation into the governor’s charity.