St Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner is questioning Missouri lawmakers as part of a criminal enquiry. Governor Eric Greitens stands accused of blackmailing a mistress to keep quiet with partially nude photos of her, taken while she was bound and blindfolded. Greitens has admitted to the extra-marital affair, but denies blackmail allegations.
The noose tightens
It is a truism of political scandals that it is often the cover-up that causes more damage than the original scandal itself. This certainly appears to be the case for Governor Greitens – especially if the allegations of blackmail are corroborated.
The day after the governor admitted the affair but denied blackmailing anyone, St Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner opened an investigation. In a statement she released she said:
“It is essential for residents of the City of St. Louis and our state to have
confidence in their leaders. They must know that the Office of the Circuit
Attorney will hold public officials accountable in the same manner as any other
resident of our city.”
Three weeks later reports emerged that the ex-husband of Greitner’s mistress had received a subpoena to appear before a St Louis Grand Jury.
But yesterday the investigation took a more serious turn. According to the Kansas City Star the St Louis Circuit Attorney has dispatched a team of investigators to Jefferson City, the Missouri capital, to question members of the Missouri General Assembly. Worryingly the investigation appears to now have broadened beyond the original questions about blackmail.
St Louis Circuit Attorney asks about Dark Money
Dark money (political donations routed through third parties, such as non-profit organizations, to hide their true source) is much criticized in Missouri politics, but not illegal.
Up until a year ago, one of the chief critics was Governor Greitens himself, who during his 2016 campaign criticized politicians who “set up these secretive super PACs where they don’t take any responsibility for what they’re doing.”
But in February 2017 Greitens’ campaign treasurer set up a secretive non-profit called New Missouri Inc., for the purpose of promoting Greitens’ conservative political agenda. As a non-profit New Missouri can collect unlimited donations without disclosing who they come from.
State representative Gina Mitten criticized New Missouri soon after its launch circumventing the political funding reforms Greitens was pushing for in public.
“Creating a nonprofit to act as a washing machine for donations and gifts wouldn’t be stopped by any of the ethics reform bills we’ve debated,” she said.
Although the reason is not yet public, the St Louis Circuit Attorney now appears to have this dark money in her sights. Speaking of a recent meeting with invesstigators Representative Nate Walker said yesterday, “They’re asking about a lot of things… dark money and different things like that.”
In the footsteps of the FBI
We may not know Kimberly Gardner’s reasons for asking questions about dark money at this point, but there is certainly reason to think Greitens has more to worry about than the blackmail allegations.
According to a CNN report in January, the FBI was investigating Governor Greitens as far back as November 2017. Eli Karabell, a member of Greitens’ transition team, told CNN he was questioned by telephone by the FBI but declined to give an specifics of the conversation. Two US officials also confirmed to CNN the existence of an FBI probe, but whether this was the same investigation that Karabell had taken part in is not clear.
Following a longstanding policy, the FBI do not comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation. It is possible that the conversation with Karabell was about a preliminary investigation that has since been closed down.
But the broadening scope of the investigation by the St Louis Circuit Attorney into topics unrelated to the original sexual blackmail allegations, plus the evidence of an FBI probe that predates the public revelation of Greitens’ affair, do suggest there may be some overlap between the two investigations. More will certainly be made clear over time.