JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The case against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is shifting from a St. Louis courtroom to a Capitol committee room.
A special, monthlong legislative session devoted to allegations against the Republican governor was to get underway Friday evening with the goal of determining whether to try to impeach Greitens in an effort to oust him from office.
The special session was to start just 30 minutes after the official end of the Legislature's regular session, and just five days after the St. Louis circuit attorney's office dropped a felony charge accusing Greitens of taking a nonconsensual photo of a partially nude woman in 2015.
Allegations of sexual misconduct during what Greitens' describes as a consensual affair are likely to be revived during the special session. Lawmakers also will be looking into whether to discipline Greitens for using a donor list from a veterans charity he founded to raise money for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign, and whether he committed any other campaign finance violations.
The Missouri Constitution says executive officeholders can be impeached for crimes, misconduct and "moral turpitude," among other things. It does not require a conviction in a criminal court — a key fact, considering the special session will be starting before prosecutors have decided whether to refile the invasion-of-privacy charge against Greitens.
No trial date has been set on a separate St. Louis felony charging Greitens with tampering with computer data for allegedly misusing The Mission Continues donor list.
Greitens so far has declined to appear before a special House investigatory committee that's been taking testimony about allegations against him since March. He hasn't said whether will testify during the special session.
The governor has been gearing up to fight for his political life. He's hired two private attorneys to represent the governor's office and several others to represent him in his personal capacity.
Governor's office attorneys Ross Garber and Eddie Greim have urged the House to adopt rules allowing Greitens' lawyers to submit subpoena requests for documents and witnesses, and to cross-examine others who testify before the House committee. They said similar procedures were adopted as Connecticut, Illinois and Alabama considered gubernatorial impeachments during the past decade.
Committee chairman Rep. Jay Barnes said he likely will honor gubernatorial requests to call witnesses. But he has shown little inclination to allow Greitens' attorneys to question witnesses — a privilege reserved only for members of the special investigative committee under its current rules.
The tiff over procedural rules highlights an underlying controversy about the special session. A total of 139 of the 161 House members and 29 of the 33 senators signed a petition calling for the session. But of those who didn't, some believe the Legislature is acting too quickly.
Rep. Bill White, a Republican attorney from Joplin, would prefer that lawmakers wait to decide on impeachment until after any criminal trials are concluded, so that they can get the benefit of seeing Greitens' defense.
"I think it's premature," White said. "I have grave concerns on the process we're doing."
Yet GOP legislative leaders have faced criticism from others, especially Democrats, for not attempting to impeach Greitens more quickly.
House Majority Whip Steve Lynch, a Waynesville Republican, said he won't be rallying support for impeaching Greitens — even if that's what the House committee recommends. Instead, he said his duties would focus solely on counting potential votes among colleagues.
"We want people to vote their own conscience and not to feel pressure — at least not from me — to vote one way or the other," Lynch said.
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