COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Kansas City Star did a deep dive this morning into Attorney General Josh Hawley’s record of conducting sham investigations to cover for Governor Eric Greitens, until it became politically untenable for Hawley to do so. Former Attorney General’s office employee Andy Hirth said, “It’s pretty clear [Hawley] did almost nothing” in his initial investigations of the Governor, “and assuming he’s being more thorough now, that just raises questions on why he wasn’t before.” Former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice Michael Wolff told the Star that Hawley’s “excuses” for not going harder against the Governor won’t hold up “because first of all they’re not true.”
Attorney General Josh Hawley has investigated Gov. Eric Greitens’ social media for alleged Sunshine Law violations twice before. He probed the governor’s use of a self-destructing text message app called Confide as well.
And each time his office said a lack of jurisdiction or subpoena power contributed to dropping the inquiry or clearing Greitens of wrongdoing.
Now, after The Star discovered emails showing a taxpayer-funded staffer appearing to create content for the governor’s Facebook, Hawley has once again launched an investigation.
But some wonder whether the outcome will be any different.
“It’s pretty clear he did almost nothing the first go-around, and assuming he’s being more thorough now, that just raises questions on why he wasn’t before,” said Andy Hirth, an attorney who worked in the attorney general’s office under Democrat Chris Koster…
…Meanwhile, Democrats contend that the attorney general has all the authority he needs to enforce the Sunshine Law, if he chooses to use it. Hawley says he doesn’t have subpoena power, but Democrats argue he could filed a lawsuit under the Sunshine Law if Greitens refuses to cooperate — a move that would give him subpoena power.
Hawley’s “excuses” aren’t going to wash “because first of all they’re not true,” said Michael Wolff, an attorney and former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice. “And second of all, the day when Josh Hawley is going to be protecting Eric Greitens, that day disappeared on April 11.”
…The news of a third inquiry into Greitens’ social media has rekindled Democratic criticism that the attorney general has turned a blind eye to allegations of wrongdoing against the governor for more than a year, getting involved only after Greitens’ scandals became a liability to Hawley’s campaign for U.S. Senate.
“Hawley’s failure to investigate the governor until it became necessary to save his political career says all you need to know about Hawley’s motivations — he will always put himself and his allies first,” said Brooke Goren, spokeswoman for the Missouri Democratic Party.
…A complaint was first filed about Greitens’ refusal to turn over records related to his social media in October 2017. Nearly two months later, the attorney general’s office said it didn’t have jurisdiction to pursue the complaint. It was instead forwarded to the Cole County prosecutor’s office, which dismissed it.
A month later, the attorney general reversed its policy and announced it would investigate the governor’s use of a text-message deleting app called Confide. That investigation was finished in March 2018 when Hawley concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoingbecause there was no evidence. Without subpoena power, the attorney general’s office relied on interviews with the governor’s staff.
…The Star asked on Jan. 16 if Hawley’s office was reconsidering its dismissal of the social media complaint from the previous year. Nine days later, Hawley’s office said the governor was not violating the Sunshine Law by refusing to turn over social media records.
The Star requested all communication, emails, research and memos related to the January investigation. Hawley’s office said those records were closed, citing citing privileged communication.
“You would think… if they’re not going to use the Sunshine Law to force sunshine on a topic, that the least they could do is tell the public why the public’s going to be denied this sunshine,” Wolff said. “Maybe they’ve got one piece of paper and they closed it. We don’t know what’s in there, but it doesn’t look like they spent a lot of time investigating the governor prior to April 11.”
…Greg Vonnahme, political science professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said a combination of factors most likely motivated Hawley to investigate Greitens’ social media.
“This has been a question for a while, so why investigate this now?” Vonnahme said. “It could be political. It does align with Hawley’s potential political motivation there to separate himself from a scandal-involved governor of his party. It could be personal. He’s called for the governor to resign. … Or it could be fact-based. It could be that with the accumulation of these scandals that Hawley is going back and reevaluating the governor’s conduct with maybe a more jaundiced eye than what he had initially.”
…Questions about Greitens’ use of social media have been percolating for the last year.