Judge rejects Greitens’ request for restraining order against Hawley

Gov.+Eric+Greitens%2C+left%2C+talks+to+south+county+resident+and+former+Rep.+Earlene+Judd+in+St.+Louis+County+the+day+before+he+was+inaugurated+earlier+this+year.+Photo+by+Gloria+Lloyd.

Gov. Eric Greitens, left, talks to south county resident and former Rep. Earlene Judd in St. Louis County the day before he was inaugurated earlier this year. Photo by Gloria Lloyd.

By Brendan Crowley
Columbia Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY — Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beteem rejected Gov. Eric Greitens’ request for a restraining order against Attorney General Josh Hawley and his office on Friday, which would have barred it from investigating allegations that Greitens took a donor list from a charity he founded without its permission and used it to help fund his campaign.

Greitens took Hawley to court on Thursday, less than two years after being elected on the same Republican ticket.

The governor accused Hawley, who is running to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in November, of politicizing investigations into him, and has called the attorney general “better at press conferences than the law.”

Greitens petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order to bar the Attorney General’s Office from investigating him or any group he has been a part of, including The Mission Continues, a charity Greitens founded that helps returning veterans transition into civilian life. Greitens asked the court to appoint an independent special prosecutor to conduct those investigations instead.

In Beteem’s ruling, he said he lacked the authority to replace Hawley with a special prosecutor because Hawley is not prosecuting a case against Greitens in Cole County but conducting “investigations which might reveal evidence of criminal conduct.”

Beteem also said Greitens and his attorneys failed to establish that Hawley had a personal interest that should disqualify him.

In February, Hawley’s office began investigating whether Greitens illegally took a donor list from The Mission Continues and used it to help fund his campaign. The Associated Press first reported in October 2016 that Greitens raised nearly $2 million off the list.

On April 17, Hawley announced that his investigation had found probable cause that Greitens obtained the list illegally, and he handed over evidence to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who had jurisdiction over the case. She filed charges on April 20, two days before the statute of limitations was set to expire.

Gardner, a Democrat, is also prosecuting the governor over allegations that he took a photo of a partially-naked woman without her consent in 2015. A Missouri House committee investigation into that allegation produced a report in which the woman stated that Greitens sexually and physically abused her, leading many lawmakers to call for his resignation.

Greitens’ petition said the public has an interest in having its money spent on an “unbiased prosecution.” And because Hawley has publicly called for Greitens to step down, including on the Attorney General’s Office website, he “clearly cannot be impartial in any investigation related to Gov. Greitens.”

Hawley says Greitens argument ‘frivolous’

The response filed on Hawley’s behalf called Greitens’ argument for a restraining order “frivolous” and said the petition is an attempt to interfere with the “orderly pursuit of justice.”

It argued the public would be harmed by barring the Attorney General’s Office from investigating the governor. A special prosecutor wouldn’t be as familiar with investigating Greitens’ alleged violations of Missouri’s consumer protection laws as the Attorney General’s Office, it argued.

“Because Mr. Greitens has unclean hands and has ample alternate avenues for raising his arguments, he is not entitled to a (temporary restraining order),” Hawley’s response argued.

Under the “unclean hands” doctrine, someone isn’t entitled to relief, including a restraining order, if they acted in bad faith or are liable for an offense.

“The compelling evidence reported in the House Investigative Committee’s Report of April 11 indicates that Mr. Greitens likely engaged in egregious misconduct — including sexual coercion, blackmail, and violence — warranting a finding of unclean hands,” Hawley’s response read.

Hawley’s response also claimed that allowing Greitens to have the elected attorney general replaced by a special prosecutor would raise “grave separation-of-powers concerns.”

“If the special prosecutor were not answerable to the attorney general, there would be no elected official answerable to the people of Missouri with responsibility for that prosecutor’s action,” the response read.

Jim Bennett, the attorney representing Greitens, said Hawley set a standard of not publicly commenting on open investigations into the governor in a Fox News interview on March 28, when host Martha MacCallum asked Hawley if he thought Greitens should resign.

“I think the gravity of this is very plain,” Hawley said on Fox News. “I don’t want to say anything that would compromise in any way my investigation, which is ongoing, or the other law enforcement activities, but the situation is very grave.”

Bennett argued that Hawley then broke his own standard two weeks later when he called for Greitens to resign or be impeached after a House investigative committee issued a report that detailed allegations that Greitens sexually and physically abused a woman who was his hairstylist in 2015.

Petition blasts Hawley for ‘personal interest’

Greitens’ petition argues that Hawley publicly pre-determined Greitens to be guilty and has a “personal interest” in seeing Greitens resign or be impeached. In court, Bennett argued Hawley was politically motivated by his U.S. Senate campaign, and that he could not “divorce” his public statements on the investigations into Greitens from his political aspirations. Bennett said he wasn’t trying to impede investigations into Greitens, but that he wanted them to be separate from the “political world we have found ourselves in.”

State Solicitor General John Sauer, who represented Hawley, rejected the assertion that Hawley had a “personal interest” in announcing on April 17 he had found probable cause that Greitens committed a felony by taking a donor list from The Mission Continues.

“The announcement that there is probable cause to support a criminal charge could not possibly prejudice a future criminal proceeding, because no criminal proceeding could be initiated without the finding of probable cause,” Sauer said.

In his response, Hawley argued that his call for resignation or impeachment was based solely on the House committee report “detailing substantial, credible and corroborated evidence that Eric Greitens engaged in acts of sexual coercion and violence.”

His calls were not at all related to his office’s monthslong investigation into whether Greitens illegally took a donor list from The Mission Continues to help fund his campaign, according to the response.

Sauer repeated those claims in court, asserting that it was Hawley’s duty as attorney general to show “leadership and courage” in calling for Greitens to resign.