Hawley: Law prohibiting politics at the pulpit should change

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley at a news conference Tuesday, April 17 (Credit: Missouri Attorney General's Office / Facebook)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Missouri attorney general says Gov. Eric Greitens' office doesn't have the legal authority to hire private attorneys to represent the office in potential impeachment proceedings.

Attorney General Josh Hawley said in a letter Friday that he must consent to the hiring of private attorneys to represent state offices. Hawley says Greitens' office never asked him for permission before hiring attorneys Ross Garber and Eddie Greim.

Hawley's letter was sent to Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who has asked the governor's office for information about the use of taxpayer dollars for the attorneys.

Galloway released a statement expressing concerns over taxpayer-funded private attorneys:The last thing Missourians expect when they send their hard-earned tax dollars to their government is for that money to be used to represent the Governor in disciplinary action before the legislature. Today's letter from the Attorney General only bolsters my concerns about the appropriateness of using public resources in this matter. Missourians deserve answers, and I will continue to pursue every avenue to provide a full accounting of how tax dollars are being used to pay these private attorneys.Greitens spokesman Parker Briden says it's a long-established fact that the governor's office has the ability to hire attorneys.

Garber is to be paid $320 an hour and Greim's firm is to get $340 an hour.

Letter is below:

Greitens later responded with a statement from spokesman Parker Briden:Missouri law is clear: the Governor’s Office does not need the permission of the Attorney General’s office before it may hire outside counsel to represent the interests of the Office of the Governor. RSMo. 26.020 provides that “the governor may employ and fix the compensation of such legal…assistants as may be necessary for the efficient conduct of his office.” This authority allowing state officers to enter into contracts for legal services has been reinforced by the Supreme Court of Missouri in Aetna Ins. Co. v. O’Malley, 343 SW2d 1232 (1938).

It is long established that the Governor’s office has the ability to hire counsel to represent the Governor in his official capacity. In fact, former Governor Jay Nixon previously hired private attorneys to represent him and his office.

The Attorney General is well aware that a possible impeachment implicates the institution of the office of the Governor and not just the individual. An effort by one branch of government to sit in judgment on another implicates the core of the executive branch of government. Presidents (including President Trump) and multitudes of governor’s offices, from New Jersey, Virginia, Alabama, Connecticut, South Carolina, and many others, have engaged outside counsel to assist in investigations that affect governors. The Governor’s office has the authority to hire counsel to represent the office to defend its interests in any purported impeachment.

As to the argument that the Governor’s Office counsel are “advancing private interests,” the Attorney General has basic facts wrong. Counsel for the Office have entered an appearance with the committee on behalf of the Office, not the Governor personally. They have attended meetings with legislative branch officials on behalf of the Office, and they have interacted with counsel for the legislative branch by responding to informal and formal requests for documents on behalf of the Office, not the Governor personally. The arguments for due process advanced by the Governor’s counsel will affect the dignity of the office for generations to come, regardless of the individual who holds the office.

Just days after the House hired two outside lawyers to represent the committee, the governor’s adversaries would no doubt like to deprive the Governor’s office of qualified counsel, including one lawyer who has represented at least three other governor’s offices in legislative investigations.

Recommended for you