With eleven days before Election Day, Josh Hawley’s record “is once again drawing scrutiny.” This weekend, reports found that Hawley’s office is “in turmoil,” being “short-changed” and “hollowed out” by an Attorney General that some Republicans believe is “a political opportunist uninterested in his official duties as the state’s top prosecutor.” Now, an attorney tells the Kansas City Star that Hawley “didn’t even look for the most basic facts” in one of his signature investigations.
Months after Hawley cleared former governor Eric Greitens of wrongdoing in his potential destruction of government records, new evidence has emerged showing “staff discussing the use of Confide to conduct public business,” and that several more staffers used the app that Hawley reported. As the private attorney pursuing the case noted, “Almost all of that information… could have been acquired by the attorney general with an open records request.”
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley faced criticism earlier this year after his office cleared former Gov. Eric Greitens of any wrongdoing over his use of a self-destructing text message app called Confide.
Now, less than two weeks before Hawley faces off against Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in one of the most closely contested senate races in the country, Hawley’s investigation of the former governor is once again drawing scrutiny.
A text message from a Greitens staffer obtained by The Star this week appears to show that the governor’s office had advance notice about when the attorney general’s investigation would conclude. And a story in The New York Times over the weekend revealed Hawley’s office acceded to the governor’s demand that interviews with Greitens staff members who used Confide could last only 15 minutes.
The new revelations are adding to questions that were already lingering about the quality of Hawley’s inquiry, ranging from a decision not to try to interview the governor to the fact that there was no forensic examination of phones used by the governor’s staff.
“We knew the attorney general’s conclusions were wrong, but why the attorney general didn’t even look for the most basic facts is a persistent, concerning question,” said Mark Pedroli, one of a pair of St. Louis attorneys who sued the governor’s office last year over its use of Confide.
…The Star uncovered in December that Greitens and members of his senior staff were using Confide, an app that automatically destroys messages after the recipient has read them. Transparency advocates worried Confide was being used to circumvent the state’s Sunshine Law and conduct government business without leaving a paper trail.
Shortly after The Star’s report, Hawley’s office launched an investigation. It concluded in March with the attorney general determining that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, in part because investigators could not find evidence.
…The governor was not interviewed because Hawley’s staff said they worried Greitens would invoke executive privilege. The governor’s attorneys were allowed to sit in on staff interviews.
…Over the next few months, documents uncovered as part of Pedroli’s lawsuit would show it was not only eight Greitens staffers who had Confide accounts but actually 27. That includes Greitens, who admitted to using Confide to communicate with his staff.
Text messages obtained from the governor’s office showed Greitens staff openly discussing the use of Confide not only among themselves but also with people outside the governor’s office. They also appeared to show staff discussing the use of Confide to conduct public business.
Almost all of that information, Pedroli said, could have been acquired by the attorney general with an open records request.
…Also raising concerns is a text message that recently turned up as evidence in Pedroli’s lawsuit showing an unnamed Greitens staffer discussing the attorney general’s inquiry.
The text was sent Feb. 2, a month before Hawley’s office would conclude its investigation. The Greitens staffer was discussing what happened in court that day in Pedroli’s lawsuit as well as what could be expected before the next court appearance.
“Next setting is a March scheduling conference,” the text said, “and we’ll have the AG opinion and a motion to dismiss on file by then.”
Greitens and his staff appear to know not only when the investigation would be finalized, Pedroli said, but also what the findings would be.
…On the same day Hawley concluded his Confide inquiry, and just days after officially jumping into the campaign for U.S. Senate, his office launched a second Greitens investigation.
…Seven months after initially launching his investigation, and five months after Greitens resigned from office, the attorney general’s probe of The Mission Continues is still not closed.