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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL277.PRB - An Absence of Historical Perspectives
I've sought to focus these columns on historical perspectives to the current issues and activities in Missouri government.
But Missouri now is dealing with something for which there are almost no historical similarities -- at least not during my nearly four decades covering state government.
The unprecedented aspects involving Gov. Eric Greitens potential impeachment are many.
For the first time in recent memory a governor publicly confessed to an adulterous affair.
Maybe for the first time in history, Missourians have heard a recording of a governor's mistress describing the affair.
It's probably the first time a Missouri legislative committee has released a transcript in which a governor's mistress described in graphic detail encounters she alleged involving non-consensual sexual acts.
I suspect it's also unique that a legislative committee concluded as "credible" a witness making those kind of allegations against a state official.
Never before can I remember the state's chief lawyer, the attorney general, labeling as "certainly impeachable" alleged conduct of a governor.
Nor can I remember ever hearing a statewide elected official labeling as a liar a person claiming to be the victim of the official's personal acts.
The MeToo era creates a societal context to this issue for which there is no precedent.
Missouri legislative leaders are collecting signatures to call themselves into a special session to deal with impeachment. That would be an historical first.
Since adoption of the state's Open Meetings Law, I do not recall a legislative committee engaging in the degree of secrecy with an issue as momentous as the potential removal of a governor from office.
Beyond the committee chair blocking public access to committee meetings, the House rules adopted for creation of the committee even gags members from talking about committee evidence until its investigation is concluded.
So, it may be a while before we find out whether there were any differences of opinion among committee members about the evidence they acquired.
I understand a desire to respect the wishes of the principle witness to keep her identity private. News organizations have respected her wishes that we not use her name.
The committee chair has told colleagues that testimony needed to be behind closed doors so subsequent witnesses would not change what they said based on testimony from prior witnesses.
But gosh, criminal trials are completely open. Besides, committee witnesses testify under oath to tell the truth.
Surely there were issues discussed by the committee that did not involve the identity of a witness or witness testimony.
For example, did the committee ever discuss whether actions by the governor before he took office were legitimate issues for a legislative investigation? If the committee did not discuss that question, why not?
Another question is whether the committee ever discussed delaying its conclusion until there was a decision in the governor's criminal trial? If not, why not? The governor has made that a major argument in his attack on the committee.
Another question involves why the committee decided it needed more time to continue its secret investigation?
Also, why has the committee been so secretive about its investigation of the political use of the mailing list from the governor's non-profit veterans charity?
Actually, as I write this column, there has been no official confirmation the committee is even looking into that matter, although Attorney General Josh Hawley told a news conference he was turning over to the committee the documents from his investigation that found evidence of criminal activity by Greitens.
There is only one historical perspective to the current situation I can provide.
It is the 1994 House impeachment and subsequent state Supreme Court removal of Judy Moriarty as Secretary of State.
That perspective is a stark contrast to the present.
The House committee investigation of Moriarty was done in fully open, public sessions. There was no rule gagging the committee members from discussing evidence with reporters or others.
One quarter of a century later, I now find myself covering one of the most secretive legislative processes investigating one the most secretive governors.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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