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Two former House members urge committee investigating Greitens’ indictment to be more transparent

Erin Achenbach | St. Louis Public Radio
Black-out sheets cover the glass doors at the back entrance of the Jefferson City Police Dept., where the House committee investigating Greitens' indictment met Wednesday to hear testimony from witnesses.

Some former Missouri House members who now serve in the Senate are voicing concerns over how a House special committee is investigating the indictment of Gov. Eric Greitens.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, chair of the Special Investigative Committee on Oversight, closed Wednesday’s meeting to the public, during which the committee began taking testimony from witnesses – and he’s indicated that most if not all testimony will be taken in private.

The committee met Wednesday morning at the Jefferson City police station which has several private entrances. The window blinds were closed and the double doors to the back entrance of the station were covered with black plastic sheets to prevent anyone, including reporters gathered outside, from seeing into the building.

Democratic Senator Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis, who served in the Missouri House from 2007 to 2013, said committee members are being oversensitive.

Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis

  “I know that they want to make sure that they get all of the information that’s needed, I know that they don’t want individuals that may come before the committee to be afraid to do so due to the public eyes on them,” she said. “However, this is about transparency – this about allowing people to hear the evidence (on) the man that’s the governor, that they are paying taxes for.”

Barnes told reporters this week that closing hearings to the public would protect the identities of witnesses who otherwise might not come forward.

Republican Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, who’s repeatedly clashed with Greitens, maintains the committee investigating the governor should do so openly.

“If you make it closed, and then the governor is not recommended to be impeached, everybody is going to be (saying), ‘well, a bunch of Republicans protected their own, and it’s going to reflect badly on the members of that committee,” he said.

Schaaf, who served in the House for eight years, added that everything said behind closed doors needs to be included in the committee’s final report for transparency.

Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

  “If they put out a report that just says ‘after looking at all this evidence we’ve decided to impeach or not impeach,’ that’s not really good enough,” he said. “If you allow them to pick and choose what goes into that report, the people of Missouri are only going to be able to form some kind of partial answer as to whether they think the process was conducted properly.”

The committee has until April 9 to release a report which could recommend impeachment.

Both Nasheed and Schaaf have called on Greitens to resign. Several other Republicans and Democrats have as well.

At least two GOP lawmakers, though, appear to be standing by Greitens. Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, issued a statement after the indictment, which said in part that “a good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a turnip, so it is premature to convict solely on the basis of a grand jury indictment.” Emery also praised Greitens’ choices of staff and department heads, calling them phenomenal and saying they’re more than capable of managing Missouri’s government “pending full resolution of the indictment.”

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, blasted the news media and “self-interested politicians” in a recent hand-delivered statement, accusing them of pushing a story with few facts and attempting to get lawmakers and citizens to rush to judgment.

“I for one do not intend to let the newspapers do my thinking for me,” he said. “I was elected to represent the people of my district, not the political chattering class.”

Follow Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.