Barnes: House investigative committee 'on-track'

Wednesday news briefing follows four-hour closed session in the morning

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, speaks about the special House committee investigating Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens at a press conference March 14, 2018.
State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, speaks about the special House committee investigating Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens at a press conference March 14, 2018.

State Rep. Jay Barnes told reporters late Wednesday afternoon the House Special Investigative Committee on Oversight is "on track to release a report of some sort" by early April.

Barnes, R-Jefferson City, chairs the committee formed late last month by House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, to investigate the facts surrounding Gov. Eric Greitens and a St. Louis grand jury indictment charging him with felony invasion of privacy.

Barnes' nearly five-minute Capitol news briefing came about four hours after the committee's meeting for more than four hours Wednesday morning.

"The committee has been moving quickly," Barnes told reporters gathered in the House Lounge. "We've had five hearings in two weeks."

With the Legislature out of town next week for spring break, Barnes said the committee likely would meet again March 23.

He would not say how many more hearings will be needed.

"(We've) spoken to a number of witnesses, (and) there are additional witnesses with whom we plan to speak," he explained.

Barnes said the committee has issued "some subpoenas," but would not say whether those involved bringing witnesses or evidence to the hearings.

Except for its first, brief meeting at the Capitol last week, all of the committee's hearings have been closed and have been held at the Jefferson City police station, with its extra security.

The doors and windows of the station's south entrance, that go to the police classroom area, have been covered with black plastic, and a police officer has been stationed inside to open the doors for the committee members and House staffers as they enter and leave the building.

The blinds on the windows in the classroom also have been closed.

Police so far have not commented on how many officers are involved in the security work or how that work has affected the department's regular routines. Instead, those questions have been directed to the House Communications office which, so far has not provided answers.

On Wednesday morning, reporters saw a vehicle escorted into the station's basement garage - a possible indication of another witness appearing before the committee.

Barnes would not say how many witnesses already have been called, or how many more will be needed for the panel to complete its investigation.

He has said the panel needs to work behind closed doors to protect both the identity and the testimony of witnesses appearing before it.

The only witness who has been confirmed to have testified before the committee - and only because his attorney confirmed that appearance last week - is the now-former husband of the woman said to have had an affair with Greitens in 2015, starting before he launched his campaign for governor.

While some say the committee's work could lead to the House voting to impeach the governor, Barnes has argued the panel's only job is to determine the facts surrounding the governor's case and to report those facts to the House leadership and members.

The resolution authorizing the committee's work requires it to submit its report in early April - although the panel also has the power to extend that deadline if needed.

"There has been a court reporter at every hearing taking a transcription of the proceedings," he reported Wednesday. "Those transcriptions will be released at the point in time in which we are concluding our investigation or are coming to a conclusion of the investigation.

"We are reserving the right to redact things for privacy, to protect names."

Unlike the state's Judi Moriarty impeachment process in the mid-1990s - which occurred after the then-secretary of state had been convicted of falsifying an official document - this House special committee investigation is going on at the same time as St. Louis officials are preparing their criminal case against Greitens for a May 14 trial date.

And there are indications - but no confirmation - the St. Louis grand jury still is investigating the governor for other possible law violations.

When asking the House two weeks ago to approve the resolution authorizing the committee's work, Barnes told colleagues he hoped to share information with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's office, which is prosecuting the indictment against Greitens.

"We have not received that information," Barnes said Wednesday. "We've requested that (and) we've had some discussions - (but) there is an order in that case not to release the information to third parties."

Barnes said the Legislature has the authority to issue a subpoena seeking that information in spite of the court order.

"We are a separate, independent branch of government with our own powers and authority," he explained. "We may choose to go down that path in the future to get that information, but we have not gone down that path to this point."

The grand jury's one indictment - that was made public Feb. 22 - accuses Greitens of taking a picture of a woman who was at least partly nude, and taking the picture in such a way that it could be shared with a computer.

The woman has been identified as Greitens' former hairdresser, and the picture reportedly was taken in the basement of the Greitens family's home in St. Louis.

His lawyers have argued in court papers that the 1995 "peeping tom" law used to charge the governor doesn't apply to this case, because the woman didn't have any expectation of privacy since she was involved in a sexual relationship with Greitens.

Neither the woman nor her husband have been identified by name.

The governor has admitted to being involved in an affair, but has denied committing any crime and has not admitted publicly to taking any picture.

During a recent court hearing, the St. Louis City Circuit Attorney's office - which is prosecuting the criminal case against Greitens - said they did not have the photograph but were working to get it.

Philip Joens of the News Tribune staff contributed information used in this story.

Upcoming Events