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Government & Politics

AG Hawley: Greitens committed ‘potentially criminal acts’ involving veterans charity

 

Jefferson City

Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Tuesday that his office has uncovered potential criminal wrongdoing by Gov. Eric Greitens, a fellow Republican, and has turned that evidence over to the St. Louis prosecutor.

Hawley said that during an investigation into the Mission Continues, a charity founded by Greitens, his office "uncovered evidence of wrongdoing that goes beyond Missouri’s charity laws" and indicates "potentially criminal acts were committed by Gov. Eric Greitens."

Hawley, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate, said his team found evidence that Greitens allegedly obtained and transmitted the charity’s donor list for political fundraising. He said there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the charity, only by the governor.

“And he did all of this without permission of the Mission Continues,” Hawley said.

“This is known as computer tampering. And given the value of the list in question, it is a felony.”

Hawley said his office lacks the jurisdiction to prosecute the governor on this matter because the alleged crime was committed in St. Louis. He said he obtained court permission to share all the evidence with St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who will decide whether to charge the governor before the statute of limitations runs out.

The statute of limitations expires April 22, meaning any charges would likely have to be filed by close of business Friday.

Greitens issued a statement mocking the attorney general.

"Fortunately for Josh, he’s better at press conferences than the law," Greitens said. "Anyone who has set foot in a Missouri courtroom knows these allegations are ridiculous."

Gardner's spokeswoman, Susan Ryan, said the circuit attorney's office met Monday with members of Hawley's team.

"The AG's team provided information they have gathered to us, and we are reviewing the evidence," Ryan said. "We can't discuss any specifics at this time as the investigation is ongoing."

Gardner’s office is already prosecuting Greitens for allegedly invading a woman’s privacy by taking her photo without her permission in 2015. A hearing on a motion to dismiss the case will take place Thursday.

Greitens, in his statement, attacked Gardner as "a liberal prosecutor funded by George Soros who allegedly suborned perjury, falsified documents, and withheld evidence."

The Missouri Republican Party first tried to link Greitens' criminal indictment to Soros, a New York billionaire who supports progressive causes, in February. Hawley broke with the party at the time and stressed the seriousness of the grand jury indictment.

In February, Hawley launched an investigation into Greitens’ use of the charity donor list belonging to The Mission Continues, which Greitens founded in 2007. The inquiry is part of the attorney general's role to enforce Missouri's consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting laws.

Greitens was served with a subpoena from Hawley’s office last month.

Greitens' attorneys on Monday urged Hawley to recuse his office from the investigation of The Mission Continues. The governor contends that Hawley compromised the integrity of the investigation when he publicly called for Greitens to resign over allegations of sexual coercion and blackmail contained in a report released last week by a Missouri House committee.

Greitens is charged with one felony count of invasion of privacy stemming from allegations that he took a nude photo of a woman with whom he was having an affair and threatened to release it if she revealed the relationship. The woman testified to the House committee that the affair with Greitens included nonconsensual sexual encounters and physical violence.

The governor has admitted to the affair but has denied any criminal wrongdoing.

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Issues surrounding the Greitens campaign’s use of The Mission Continues' donor list have dogged the governor since shortly before the 2016 election.

When first confronted by the Associated Press in October 2016 with evidence that his campaign used its donor list to raise money, Greitens flatly denied it.

After a complaint was filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Greitens and his attorney signed a consent decree last year attesting that the list was given to his campaign in March 2015 as an in-kind donation from Daniel Laub, his campaign manager.

Yet The Mission Continues has been adamant that it did not — and would not — give Greitens’ campaign or any campaign its donor list. Doing so could violate federal law and put the charity’s tax-exempt status at risk. The charity has been equally unwavering in saying that it doesn’t even know who Laub is.

And a report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this year disputed Greitens’ explanation. Emails the paper obtained show Greitens’ former assistant sent The Mission Continues donor list to Laub and another campaign staff member two months earlier than what the governor attested to in the consent decree with the ethics commission.

Laub did not respond to a request for comment.

 

It was the Post-Dispatch report that sparked the attorney general's inquiry, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Previous allegations of theft regarding the donor list would have been outside the office's jurisdiction, the attorney general's office said, because they involved criminal matters. But the revelations in the Post-Dispatch story raised questions about whether the charity was violating prohibitions on nonprofits engaging in politics. If it had, Hawley's office could have filed a civil suit to impose various penalties against the charity.

But the evidence never pointed to any wrongdoing by the charity, but rather that Greitens had misappropriated the charity's resources without its permission.

The decision was made on Friday to ask a judge to give the attorney general's office permission to share the evidence it had collected with Gardner's office. That permission was granted on Monday.

The controversy began in 2016, when The AP obtained an Excel spreadsheet labeled “All donors $1K total and up — as of 5-7-14.”

The list included more than 500 names, along with email addresses and phone numbers, for individuals who had given at least $1,000 to the charity. Those included on the list had combined to give the charity roughly $4.7 million in contributions.

The list also included names and contact information for foundations that gave an additional $4 million and corporations that gave more than $20 million.

The spreadsheet’s properties showed it was created by an employee of The Mission Continues on May 6, 2014, shortly before Greitens stepped down as CEO. It was last saved 10 months later, on March 24, 2015, by a member of Greitens’ gubernatorial exploratory committee.

Greitens resigned as CEO but stayed on the charity's board of directors until August 2015.

The list was created during the transition period between Greitens' resignation and new leadership taking over, said Laura L'Esperance, a spokeswoman for The Mission Continues.

Greitens would have used the list as outgoing CEO, L'Esperance said, to contact donors and reassure them that the charity was in good hands and to introduce them to its new leaders. But it was made clear at the time that the donor list was not to be used for any other purpose, she said, and the Mission Continues never would have authorized its use for a political campaign.

"Its only approved purpose of the list was for this transition," she said. "We did not authorize any use of the list for anything other than the transition."

L'Esperance said donors' personal information is considered strictly confidential.

Donors who had previously given significant amounts to The Mission Continues gave Greitens nearly $2 million. Of the more than $525,000 that Greitens raised during an initial two-month period of his campaign in early 2015, the AP found that 85 percent came from donors who previously had given to The Mission Continues.

Jim Martin, one of Greitens' attorneys, said in a statement Tuesday that the legal team has "done a thorough review of this matter, and we know that there’s no wrongdoing here. In fact, there’s nothing close to wrongdoing. Eric built The Mission Continues from scratch, and he helped thousands of veterans by doing so. The Attorney General held a completely frivolous and inappropriate press conference on a non-issue."

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