House investigation into Greitens will be tight-lipped process with hearings closed

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By Tyler Wornell Missouri Digital News

JEFFERSON CITY — A committee tasked with investigating Gov. Eric Greitens will work behind closed doors for the next 40 days as it embarks on a “fact-finding” mission related to his indictment on a felony invasion of privacy charge.

A March 6 committee meeting lasted all of three minutes in order to close a March 7 meeting which was held at the Jefferson City Police Department. The committee’s chair, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said holding open hearings would be detrimental to the committee’s work.

“As a committee that wants to go through a fact-finding process, having that completely open would destroy the purpose of the committee,” Barnes said. “We have the responsibility to protect the identity and the privacy of witnesses, and we will do our best to make sure that happens.”

The resolution that established the committee has vague language and gives the group power to “investigate allegations against Governor Eric R. Greitens.” It is allowed to close all or portions of a hearing for witness testimony and evidence review.

The committee can also subpoena witnesses and hire investigators and attorneys if necessary. It wasn’t publicly known last week if any subpoenas had been issued. Barnes said he and other members of the committee would remain quiet until the investigation concludes.

“Until that time, you are not going to get any comment from me or members of this committee, or hints from members,” Barnes said. “You are wasting your time trying.”

Barnes said the committee will release a report and records from the closed meetings after the investigation concludes.

Several Democrats tried to amend the resolution in the House last week to open the testimony and evidence hearings, but failed to do so. On March 6, House Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, reiterated concerns she expressed Thursday about the transparency of the committee.

“Given the gravity of this, I think we need to be as open and transparent as possible,” McCann Beatty said.

The investigative committee was announced by House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, on Feb. 26 after Greitens was indicted Feb. 22 on a felony invasion of privacy charge by a St. Louis grand jury.

The indictment stems from allegations that he photographed a naked woman without her consent with whom he had an affair in 2015, prior to launching his gubernatorial campaign. Greitens admitted to the affair but has not explicitly confirmed or denied taking the photo. His trial will begin in May.

Other members of the panel include Republican state representatives Don Phillips, Kevin Austin, Jeanie Lauer, Shawn Rhoads, and Democrats Gina Mitten and Tommie Pierson, Jr.

The committee has 40 days to conduct its investigation, after which it could do nothing or send articles of impeachment to the full House. 

If the House votes to impeach, seven jurists would then be selected by the Senate to conduct a trial. Those jurists would be members of the Senate.

It’s unclear if that trial could be conducted after the end of the legislative session.