A lawyer for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens argued Thursday that Attorney General Josh Hawley should be barred from investigating the governor because of critical comments that he suggested were partly motivated by Hawley's candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
During a court hearing, Greitens' attorney Jim Bennett said Hawley displayed a "personal interest" when he called upon Greitens to resign following the release of a House investigatory report this month detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by Greitens. Bennett said that should disqualify Hawley's entire office from investigating separate allegations that Greitens' wrongfully accessed a donor list from a veterans' charity for his political campaign.
"It's one thing to be the attorney general exercising your duties," Bennett told Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. "It's another thing to be doing that at the exact same time you have a personal interest in attaining a different situation, which would be related to that Senate race."
Beetem said he would consider Greitens' request for an injunction against Hawley's investigation and issue a ruling later. Greitens' attorneys want the judge to appoint a special independent counsel.
The court hearing was the most dramatic showdown yet between Missouri's first-term Republican governor and its first-term GOP attorney general, both of whom were elected in 2016 as political outsiders. Hawley now is seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, while Greitens is facing two felony charges and multiple investigations.
State Solicitor General John Sauer, representing Hawley's office, argued Thursday that Hawley had "shown leadership and courage by calling on the governor to resign promptly" after the House investigatory committee's April 11 report that detailed a woman's testimony that Greitens restrained, slapped and threatened her during sexual encounters that at times left her crying and afraid. Sauer said it was part of Hawley's official role to do so.
"The suggestion that there is some sort of political bent that becomes a personal interest is completely unsupported by evidence," Sauer said.
While questioning the attorneys, Beetem noted that professional rules of conduct regarding a "personal interest" typically refer to situations such as family relations, not merely being "a political competitor." Bennett conceded that he had no legal precedent for such an argument but noted that's only because Greitens' case is unique.
The governor is to go to trial May 14 in St. Louis on a felony invasion of privacy charge alleging he took and transmitted a nonconsensual photo of the woman in 2015. Greitens has acknowledged having an extramarital affair with the woman but denied criminal wrongdoing.
St. Louis prosecutors charged him last week with a second felony of tampering with computer data for allegedly disclosing a list of top donors to The Mission Continues to his political campaign in 2015 without the consent of the veterans' charity that he founded. That charge came after Hawley provided information that he developed during his investigation into the St. Louis-based charity.
In a separate court hearing Thursday, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison turned down a request by Greitens' attorneys to depose former Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple over whether he made payments to the ex-husband of the woman who had an affair with Greitens.
Temple's attorney, Joseph Bednar, told the judge that Temple has repeatedly denied making any payments to the man.
Also Thursday, William Tisaby, the private investigator hired by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to investigate Greitens in the invasion of privacy case, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a deposition. Attorneys for Greitens have accused Tisaby of perjury in earlier depositions for allegedly lying about notes taken during an interview with the woman involved in the affair.