Barnes: Committee investigating Greitens is 'on track'

Are they making progress?

"Yes, we're still on track," state Rep. Jay Barnes told reporters as he left Tuesday's meeting of the House Special Investigative Committee on Oversight - the seven-member panel formed last month to investigate legal complaints against Gov. Eric Greitens.

The resolution authorizing the committee's work gave it a 40-day deadline to submit its report - or the second week in April - although the committee has the power to extend its work if necessary.

Barnes, R-Jefferson City, had no other comment about the committee's work during its fifth closed-session meeting at the Jefferson City Police Department - the same response he's had after the four previous meetings.

Tuesday's meeting lasted a little more than two hours.

But Barnes, the committee's chairman, and Vice Chairman Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, left the building about 20 minutes later than the rest of the committee members and the staff. They offered no explanation for their later departure.

House Speaker Todd Richardson formed the committee a month ago, days after a St. Louis grand jury issued an indictment charging Greitens with felony invasion of privacy for taking a picture of a woman in March 2015, without her consent - and when she was at least partially nude - in such a way that the picture could be seen on a computer.

Greitens' trial is scheduled for May 14 in St. Louis, where the crime reportedly occurred in the basement of his family's home, before he had announced his campaign for the governor's office.

Greitens has admitted having an affair but has denied committing any crime - and hasn't commented on whether he took a photo.

Circuit Judge Rex Burlison ruled Monday that a jury will hear the case and decide the governor's guilt or innocence, rejecting Greitens' legal team's request for a judge-tried trial.

The maximum punishment - if there's a conviction for the alleged crime - is four years in prison.

The House on March 1 approved the committee's creation with a 154-0 vote.

And, although it was formed in the wake of the criminal charge filed against the governor, its work isn't limited to that.

Last week, Attorney General Josh Hawley said his office had shared information with the House committee from its investigations into the governor's use of the Confide smartphone application that erases messages as soon as they're read, and of possible illegal connections between Greitens' charity, The Mission Continues, and his election campaign.

Barnes has not commented on Hawley's statement.

Except for one brief, four-minute meeting March 6 at the Capitol, all the committee's sessions have been held behind closed doors at the police station, 401 Monroe St.

There, witnesses can enter the building through a secure garage door, then be taken to the classroom where the meetings are held without being seen by reporters standing along Handley Way outside the doors going into the classroom area.

The blinds covering the classroom's windows have been closed, and black plastic has been placed over the entrance area's doors and window so people can't see inside.

Barnes always has envisioned closed meetings for the panel, telling the House before it approved his resolution authorizing the committee: "If we are taking witness testimony, the hearing is going to be closed" because "if we have a public hearing, everything a previous witness says would be reported to other potential witnesses - and that would color their testimony."

The only witness known to have spoken with Barnes' committee is the former husband of the woman whose picture may have been taken - who has been identified as Greitens' hairdresser. She originally confessed the affair to her then-husband and, without her knowledge, he made a recording of her story, which he later shared with St. Louis television station KMOV and several Missouri newspapers.

KMOV released the story Jan. 10, shortly after Greitens finished his State of the State address.

From the beginning, some lawmakers and Capitol observers have said the Special Investigative committee is a first step toward the House voting to impeach Greitens - which could lead to his being forced from office, if a panel of seven judges appointed by the state Senate convicted the governor of the impeachment charges.

But Barnes consistently has said: "Our task is going to be to look at these facts and to come back to this (House) with a report based on our investigation."

The only thing he's promised is the committee will issue a full report when it's done - although the names of some of the witnesses, and some of the things they said, may be redacted.

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