By SUMMER BALLENTINE and JIM SALTER
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — St. Louis’ top prosecutor on Friday asked a judge to disqualify the law firm representing Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in his criminal case.
In a court filing, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said the St. Louis-based Dowd Bennett law firm simultaneously worked both for and against the state in representing the Republican governor in a civil case as well as his criminal case.
Greitens was indicted by a St. Louis grand jury last month on felony invasion of privacy. He is accused of taking a compromising photo of a woman with whom he was having an affair in 2015, without her permission. Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied criminal wrongdoing.
Separately, a lawsuit filed in December claimed Greitens’ use of the message-destroying phone app Confide violated the state’s open records laws.
Dowd Bennett represented Greitens in both cases until withdrawing from the Confide case earlier this month, after Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley issued a report finding use of the app did not violate the law. The firm did not charge Greitens for work in the Confide case.
“For over two months, Dowd and Bennett knowingly engaged in a concurrent conflict of interest,” Gardner wrote.
Defense attorney Edward L. Dowd said Gardner’s filing “shows a certain level of desperation.”
Dowd said his office consulted with the Missouri attorney general’s office on Jan. 11.
“This was resolved by satisfying the Attorney General that the state would not be billed additional amounts based on the two matters,” Dowd said in a statement.
The court filing also said the Confide app “is at the center of both matters.” Gardner wrote that Greitens’ use of “Confide, Signal and/or other similar applications to engage in criminal behavior is alleged” in the indictment. A review of the indictment by an AP reporter found a reference to transmission of the photo but that it does not specifically mention Confide. Signal is another app that encrypts messages.
Separately, Hawley said his office has asked for information from 15 sources as part of an investigation into a charity founded by Greitens.
Hawley said civil investigative demands, which under Missouri law operate as an administrative subpoena, went to the charity, The Mission Continues, as well as Greitens’ campaign and the Greitens Group. The office also issued civil investigative demands to staffers or former staffers at those entities, but Hawley wouldn’t say specifically who.
“Suffice it to say that this is a very active investigation and it is progressing by the day,” Hawley — a Republican who is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in a race with national implications — told reporters in his Jefferson City office.
Hawley announced the inquiry into the veterans charity earlier this month after The Associated Press reported that Greitens had used a Mission Continues email to send meeting invitations to political consultants as he was preparing to run for office in 2015.
Greitens, who was on the board of directors of The Mission Continues at the time, sent meeting invitations from the charity’s email address to three political consultants, according to records obtained by AP.
Federal tax law prohibits 501(c)(3) charities such as The Mission Continues from participating in any political campaign on behalf of a candidate for public office, with penalties ranging up to the loss of their tax-exempt status. The legal consequences for individual charity directors are less clear.
The St. Louis circuit attorney’s office also is investigating The Mission Continues, spokeswoman Susan Ryan said. She declined to discuss the investigation but said it is focused on potential criminal matters while the attorney general’s investigation is focused on civil issues.
“We are not investigating the same thing but we are making sure that we don’t get in each other’s way,” Ryan said.
On top of that, the Republican-led Missouri House launched an investigation of Greitens to look into allegations against him.
Democrats have repeatedly criticized Hawley’s Confide review, specifically citing the decision not to press for an interview with Greitens himself.
Missouri law does not give the attorney general subpoena power to investigate possible violations of the state’s Sunshine law. Hawley said he would reopen the review if legislators pass a bill to give his office the authority to issue subpoenas in those cases.