Missouri lawmakers opened a historic special session Friday to consider whether to impeach Gov. Eric Greitens for a variety of allegations ranging from sexual misconduct to misuse of a veterans' charity donor list for his political campaign.
It marked the first time Missouri lawmakers had ever achieved the supermajority necessary to summon themselves into a special session. And depending on the outcome of the session, Greitens could become the first Missouri governor ever impeached in an attempt to oust him from office.
But Friday also contained a victory for the Republican governor, as a prosecutor said he had decided not to charge Greitens with a misdemeanor of filing a false campaign finance report. Earlier this week, another prosecutor decided to drop an invasion-of-privacy charge stemming from what Greitens has described as a consensual extramarital affair in 2015.
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The opening evening of the special session was quick and merely procedural. During the 30-day session, a special House investigatory committee that has been meeting since March is expected to continue hearing witness testimony before recommending whether to pursue impeachment. If the House votes to impeach Greitens, the Senate then would appoint a judicial panel for a trial on whether to remove him from office.
The Missouri Constitution says executive officeholders can be impeached for crimes, misconduct and "moral turpitude," among other things. It does not require a conviction in a criminal court.
Greitens already faces a felony charge in St. Louis of tampering with computer data for allegedly disclosing a donor list of The Mission Continues to his political fundraiser in 2015 without the permission of the veterans' charity he founded. That charge came after Attorney General Josh Hawley shared information with the St. Louis circuit attorney's office.
Hawley also had shared evidence with Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson for another potential charge of filing a false campaign finance report about the charity donor list in April 2017.
"After due consideration, I have decided not to file the criminal charge suggested" by the attorney general's office, Richardson said Friday without explaining why not. He declined to comment further.
Hawley spokeswoman Mary Compton said in a written statement that the office "stands by its determination that the information provided supports a determination of probable cause."
Greitens' campaign attorney Catherine Hanaway said Richardson's decision was gratifying.
"From the beginning, our position has been the governor and his campaign wouldn't and didn't do anything to hurt the charity he founded," Hanaway said.
Greitens' finance report, which was the result of an ethics complaint settlement, listed the charity donor list as an in-kind contribution valued at $600 provided on March 1, 2015, by Danny Laub, who was functioning as Greitens' campaign manager.
But Laub testified to the attorney general this year that he wasn't the source of the donor list.
Records released this month by a special House investigatory committee show that Greitens himself received the charity donor list in 2014 so he could call key supporters and explain that he was stepping down as CEO.
The legislative report indicated that Greitens later directed political aides to work off the charity's list to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign — even though he had signed an agreement never to disclose the charity's confidential donor information.
Greitens' attorneys have contended he was entitled to use the list because it contained contact information for people he had cultivated as donors to the charity. But The Mission Continues says it never gave Greitens permission to use the list for political purposes, and federal law bars 501(c)(3) charities such as The Mission Continues from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of candidates.
The Associated Press first reported in October 2016 that Greitens' campaign had obtained a list of individuals, corporations and other nonprofits that had given at least $1,000 to The Mission Continues. The AP reported that Greitens raised about $2 million from those who had previously given significant amounts to the charity.
During their special session, lawmakers also will be considering allegations of sexual misconduct against Greitens. A St. Louis prosecutor on Monday dropped a felony invasion-of-privacy charge alleging Greitens had taken and transmitted a nonconsensual photo of the woman involved in the affair while she was at least partially nude in the basement of his home in March 2015.
The House investigatory committee has released additional testimony from the woman alleging that Greitens slapped and shoved her during other sexual encounters.
Greitens has hired attorneys Ross Garber and Eddie Greim to represent his office in the potential impeachment proceedings. Garber is to be paid $320 an hour and Greim's law firm $340 an hour from taxpayer funds.
But Hawley said Friday that the governor's office lacks the legal authority to hire private attorneys without the consent of the attorney general's office. Hawley said Greitens' office hadn't sought permission.
Greitens spokesman Parker Briden said it's a long-established fact that governors can hire attorneys to represent them in an official capacity.