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Hawley steps up pressure in Mission Continues inquiry

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announces he's issuing subpeonas in his Mission Continues investigation.
Erin Achenbach I St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announces he's issuing subpeonas in his Mission Continues investigation.

Attorney General Josh Hawley announced he’s issued 15 subpoenas as part of an investigation into how Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign received a fundraising list from a veterans charity he founded.

He also said he would fight any attempt by Greitens to use “executive privilege” in the matter. Representatives of Greitens’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Hawley announced a few weeks ago he was looking into the Mission Continues, a charity Greitens founded before running for office. Greitens was accused in 2016 of improperly using the nonprofit’s mailing list to solicit donations for his gubernatorial political campaign. While his campaign paid a $100 fine over the matter, the issue resurfaced after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Greitens’ personal assistant sent the list to his campaign manager.

On Friday, Hawley announced the subpoenas went out to staffers for the Mission Continues, Greitens’ private business and Greitens’ campaign. Mission Continues spokeswoman Laura L’Esperance stressed that it “did not provide, nor authorize the use of, our donors’ information to any persons or groups for political/campaign purposes.”

Hawley called the investigation “very active” and said “it is progressing by the day.I am pleased with the cooperation that we have received thus far from individuals that have been subpoenaed and who have responded to our subpoenas. And I am pleased thus far with the evidence we have been able to collect.

“However, I would strongly counsel those who have or will receive a subpoena from this office to cooperate fully, to comply fully and promptly with this office’s subpoenas,” he added. “And I remind them that failure to do so is itself a separate criminal violation.”

Hawley said he’s been “cooperating and collaborating” with St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office, as well as a House committee investigating the governor. Gardner is prosecuting Greitens on felony invasion of privacy charges, while the aforementioned House committee could potentially recommend impeachment.

He also said he would legally challenge Greitens exerting executive privilege, as Greitens threatened to do in an investigation regarding the use of a cell phone app known as Confide that automatically deletes text messages.

“I suppose it could be asserted,” Hawley said. “But since we have subpoena power under [a consumer protection statute], we are more than willing and ready to combat any such assertion.”

L’Esperance, the Mission Continues spokeswoman, said her organization “is fully cooperating with the attorney general’s office and we look forward to the completion of those efforts.”

“The most disappointing aspect of the Greitens campaign’s action is the disruption it has created. It distracts from the work of The Mission Continues and our partners to serve communities and veterans,” she said. “We remain committed to our mission to empower veterans, volunteers, families and communities around the country through the power of service.”

Political heat

With Hawley running against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill this year, the attorney general’s Democratic adversaries are seeking to derisively link him with Greitens. 

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill answers questions during a town hall at Harris-Stowe State University. Jan. 27, 2018
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill answers questions during a town hall at Harris-Stowe State University. Jan. 27, 2018

Senate Majority Fund, a political action committee closely linked with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., launched a television ad this week on that topic. And McCaskill herself has criticized Hawley for not looking into the Mission Continues situation sooner.

“So the governor pleads guilty to an ethics violation, and does Josh Hawley step up and say ‘oh we’re looking into this charity?’ Oh no, he lay low,” McCaskill said during a speech in Hannibal earlier this month. “Now later, now, when a real prosecutor is flooding the zone with subpoenas and investigators, he sits up and says ‘well, I’m looking into the charity.’ Kind of shamed into it.”

For his part, Hawley dismissed the Democratic criticisms on Friday.

“We are moving, I would say, thoroughly in a no-hold barred fashion with the Mission Continues,” he said. “We have done so and acted as soon as we had evidence to act upon.”

The Kansas City Star reported on Friday that Hawley is cancelling appearances alongside Greitens in Springfield and Joplin. His spokeswoman told the newspaper it would “inappropriate” to appear at a political event with someone the attorney general’s office is investigating.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.