Group to spend $1M attacking Eric Greitens in Missouri — will a crowded primary save him?

With Eric Greitens continuing to lead in most polls, Republicans worried he could cost the party a Senate seat this fall are planning to spend $1 million tearing him down before the Aug. 2 GOP primary.
But is it too little, too late?

The former Missouri governor’s standing in polls of potential primary voters has been largely unaffected by the cascade of scandals that forced him to resign in 2018 to avoid impeachment and settle a felony charge. Even fresh allegations by his ex-wife of spousal and child abuse haven’t seemed to dent his standing with core supporters.

And while his critics are desperate to deny him the Republican nomination, they have thus far been unable to rally around another candidate in the crowded primary, potentially muting any impact the attack ads may have down the final stretch.

“The one common theme we’ve seen for the last 16 months is Eric Greitens has a very high floor of support among Republican primary voters,” said James Harris, a veteran GOP consultant who is not working for any candidates in the Senate primary.

Harris said a super PAC backing Greitens has been pummeling his two main foes for the nomination — Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Meanwhile, he said Schmitt, Hartzler and U.S. Rep. Billy Long have mostly trained their fire on each other in an effort to stake their claim as Greitens’ main rival.

Republicans have been fretting about the prospect of a Greitens nomination from the moment he entered the race last year. He was forced out of the governor’s office in 2018 under an avalanche of scandal, including accusations that he sexually assaulted a women with whom he was having an affair and that he stole from a veteran’s charity he founded.

While he may have enough support to win a primary that features at least four other high-profile candidates, Republicans worry he will open the door for a Democrat to win the seat in November.

Barring an endorsement of someone other than Eric Greitens by Donald Trump, it will be very, very difficult to defeat Eric Greitens.

– James Harris, longtime GOP political consultant

“The eventual nominee will probably only need 28% of the primary vote,” Harris said. “So he doesn’t need a majority. He just needs to hang on to his base and he’s the nominee.”

The Missouri Senate flirted last year with the idea of changing the state’s primary elections to require a runoff if no candidate garners more than 50% of the vote. The effort, inspired by Greitens’ campaign for the U.S. Senate, was eventually abandoned.

Fears of a Greitens nomination increased after his ex-wife filed an affidavit as part of a child custody dispute accusing him of abusing her and their children, as well as becoming so unstable in the months before his resignation in 2018 that his access to firearms had to be limited.

Greitens has vehemently denied the accusations.

But the fact that two women have testified under penalty of perjury that he is a violent, unstable abuser has unsurprisingly rattled party leaders.

“Everything that he does is meant to distract from the fact that he is a failed elected official,” said state Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. “He quit on the people of Missouri. He quit on his family.”

Politico reported last week that a new super PAC, Show Me Values, will begin attacking Greitens with ads highlighting the abuse allegations and accusing him of being soft on China. The first ad, entitled “Scandal,” hit the airwaves Friday.

But even the news of a well-financed attack campaign against Greitens was greeted with angst by those who worry it could bolster his anti-establishment bona fides.

He’s spent nearly the entire campaign railing against RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) who he blames for his own downfall and accuses of betraying former President Donald Trump. That message culminated last week with a widely criticized campaign video depicting a gun-toting Greitens surrounded by men in military gear busting into a house to hunt down his political rivals.

“The only reason these RINOs are willing to fund their lies is because Gov. Greitens is leading the entire field by a mile in recent public polling,” said Dylan Johnson, Greitens’ campaign manager. “That’s why our ad scared them to death. These swamp creatures and grifters know their time at the trough is finished.”

Hovering over the race is Trump, who has yet to endorse anyone in the primary.

Republicans agree that whoever Trump endorses becomes the immediate frontrunner. Every major candidate has clamored for the former president’s approval, none more than Greitens.

He hired Kim Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr. ’s fiancée, as national chair of his campaign, and he’s earned support from many one-time Trump advisers, from Rudy Giuliani to Steve Bannon. He also recently released a campaign video at a gun range with Trump Jr.

“Barring an endorsement of someone other than Eric Greitens by Donald Trump,” Harris said, “it will be very, very difficult to defeat Eric Greitens. His probability of becoming the Republican nominee, whether Republican leaders like it or not, seems to be increasing. So this new effort, I fear, is coming too late.

“I hope I’m wrong.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican on Jan. 6 committee leaving to explore run for US Senate in Missouri

A Republican attorney working as an investigator for the Congressional committee probing the Jan. 6 insurrection is reportedly leaving his position early in order to explore a run for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat.

John Wood, who is a former federal prosecutor who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is being encouraged to run as an independent to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. A committee was formed this week to persuade him to join the campaign.

Wood could not be immediately reached for comment, but CNN and the Washington Post have both reported his decision to leave his job on the committee this week.

As a candidate not affiliated with a party, Wood would need to collect signatures to get on the November ballot.

Among those hoping Wood will run is former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, who earlier this year enlisted a polling firm and a PAC called the Serve America Movement to gauge whether Missouri is ready for a centrist Republican to run as an independent.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon with The Independent, Danforth said he hasn’t spoken to Wood in at least a month and learned of his decision to leave the congressional investigation through the media.

He said he was hopeful the departure meant Wood was seriously considering a run for Senate.

“John is a very serious person who would be a uniter and would be very good at working across the aisle,” Danforth said, “and trying to be a serious legislator instead of just somebody putting out press releases about how angry he is, which is the current style in politics.”

Danforth, who left the Senate in 1994 after three terms, was an early supporter of Missouri’s other U.S. Senator, Josh Hawley, encouraging him to run in 2018 and helping him raise money for the campaign.

After the Jan. 6 insurrection last year, Danforth said Hawley deserved a share of the blame and expressed remorse for ever having supported his political career.

He said he would understand if people didn’t trust his endorsement after helping get Hawley elected, laughingly saying: “The law of averages, I can’t be wrong always.”

He’s known Wood much longer than he knew Hawley, Danforth says, and is much more certain about the endorsement.

“We need to start focusing on pulling ourselves together,” he said. “And John, by his nature, his character and his demeanor, is that uniter.”

Wood, 52, is a close associate of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, one of the two Republican members of the Jan. 6 committee. In addition to clerking for Clarence Thomas, he held several roles within the Bush administration, including chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security.

Wood most recently worked as general counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In his role on the Jan. 6 committee, Wood appeared alongside lawmakers last week to question witnesses during the hearing focused on the pressure campaign targeting then-Vice President Mike Pence.

“This campaign has implications that are nationwide,” Danforth said. “It’s very important in our state, of course, but I believe we can send a message by the people of Missouri that we’ve got to change politics.”


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Appeals court finds Missouri Republican's use of self-destructing text message app wasn’t illegal

Though the use of self-destructing text-messaging apps has the practical effect of “side-stepping the reach of Missouri’s Sunshine Law,” their use by former Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff was not illegal, a panel of appeals court judges ruled Tuesday.

While Greitens was still serving as governor, he and his staff used a text-messaging app called Confide. The app allows someone to send a text message that vanishes without a trace after it is read and prevents anyone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of the message.

Mark Pedroli, a St. Louis County attorney and founder of the Sunshine and Government Accountability Project, filed a lawsuit in December 2017 arguing Greitens conspired to destroy records to ensure they could not be produced pursuant to an open records request.

But on Tuesday, a panel of judges on Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with a lower court ruling that because the records were destroyed they were never retained by the governor’s office.

And thus, failing to produce them did not constitute a violation of Missouri’s open records law.

“The Sunshine Law only requires that governmental agencies provide access to records then in existence, and in the agencies’ possession or under their control,” the judges concluded.

In a footnote to the decision, the judges agreed with Pedroli’s argument that use of apps like Confide could undermine the principle of transparency that the Sunshine Law is designed to enforce.

“It may be time to ‘update’ Missouri’s Sunshine Law that was originally enacted in 1973 — well before cellular phone technology existed and, likewise, well before ephemeral messaging applications existed,” the judges wrote. “But, it is not within the power of the judicial branch of government to ‘create’ statutory law; that power is vested with the legislative branch of government.”

The court added: “Nothing in this opinion should be interpreted to suggest that we condone the use of ephemeral messaging applications by public officials.”

Pedroli vowed to appeal the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.

“While we appreciate the court’s time and great interest in government transparency issues, we will also seek to have the Supreme Court weigh in on these issues of great importance to the state,” he said in a statement.

Last week, Pedroli said in an interview with The Independent if the courts side with the governor’s office, they will be giving permission for government agencies to destroy records to avoid disclosure. That, he said, would create a massive hole in the Sunshine Law.

He added that he had little hope that lawmakers would address the issue and fix the problem.

“Former Gov. Greitens was literally shredding and deleting records, and they didn’t step in and fix that,” Pedroli said last week. “So I don’t have a lot of hope that they’re gonna step in.”

Over the four years Pedroli has been pursuing his lawsuit, he was able to determine that nearly every member of the former governor’s taxpayer-funded staff had a Confide account and that the app was being used to communicate both within the governor’s office and with outside allies and lobbyists.

Greitens resigned in June 2018 to settle a felony charge and avoid impeachment. He is now running for the U.S. Senate.

Because of the appeals court decision, Tuesday was a “great day for corrupt officials,” said Elad Gross, an attorney and transparency advocate.

Daxton Stewart, a journalism professor specializing in media law at Texas Christian University, tweeted Tuesday that the ruling was “hugely problematic and creates perverse incentives for government officials to destroy documents as they go to prevent oversight.”


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Appeals court hears arguments over GOP candidate's use of self-destructing text message app

A panel of state appeals court judges heard arguments last week over whether former Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff used self-destructing text-message apps in 2017 to illegally circumvent Missouri’s transparency laws.

While Greitens was still serving as governor, it was revealed he and his staff were using a text-messaging app called Confide. The app allows someone to send a text message that vanishes without a trace after it is read. It also prevents anyone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of the message.

Mark Pedroli, a St. Louis County attorney and founder of the Sunshine and Government Accountability Project, filed a lawsuit in December 2017 arguing Greitens conspired to destroy records to ensure they could not be produced pursuant to an open records request.

Greitens resigned in June 2018, but the lawsuit over his use of Confide carried on.

A Cole County judge dismissed the case last year, ruling that the destruction of records would constitute a violation of the state’s record retention laws, not the Sunshine Law. The lawsuit could not move forward, the judge concluded, because private citizens have no right to sue over a violation of the retention law.

Government transparency advocates feared the judge’s ruling opened a massive loophole in open records laws, and Pedroli filed an appeal.

A panel of judges on Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case last Thursday.

“Today, we are confronted by an extremely serious case with extraordinary issues of public policy, transparency and democracy. In this case, a governor and his staff have admitted to using an ephemeral or burner app to destroy communications.They have also admitted to doing it deliberately,” Pedroli argued last week.

“The question is,” he said, “can a governor or other elected official destroy public records deliberately, with the sole intention of depriving access of citizens to these records under the Sunshine Law?”

Scott Pool, a Jefferson City attorney hired by Greitens’ successor, Gov. Mike Parson, to defend the office, argued the Cole County judge was correct in throwing the case out. Because the Confide app worked as it was intended, Pool said, no records were retained and therefore no records were required to be turned over.

“No one affirmatively did anything to destroy, there was a product used,” Pool told the judges. “The purpose of that product, as shown by expert testimony, was that the product was effective. Once something’s read, nothing’s retained. Nothing’s created. Nothing’s preserved.”

The panel of judges grilled both attorneys for nearly an hour Thursday, delving into what specifically counts as a public record and what remedy exists if a government official destroys those records.

One judge asked whether a Confide message should be considered a retained record if Greitens sent it at 3 a.m. but it sat unread — and undeleted — in a staff member’s inbox for hours.

“As I understand the Confide app, when that staff member woke up at 6:30 and turned on their phone, the governor’s message would be there,” said Judge Mark Pfeiffer. “Was that message not retained on that phone?”

Another judge wondered if the same standards being applied to a Confide message would hold up if this case were about paper records that the governor “deliberately destroys, rips it up, tears it up, burns it, whatever you want to say.”

Pedroli argued there would be no difference.

“If we were to lose today, the governor of Missouri could step out on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion with banker boxes full of documents and burn them,” Pedroli said, later adding: “We would be powerless.”

Pool dismissed Pedroli’s argument as “hyperbole,” saying the record retention law gives the attorney general and local prosecutor the power to pursue charges.

Sen. Josh Hawley, then serving as Missouri attorney general, briefly investigated Greitens’ Confide use in 2018. He ultimately concluded his office didn’t have the tools it needed to pursue the case, such as subpoena power. He would later face criticism over how his office conducted its probe.

The judges also asked about staff in the governor’s office downloading another self-destructing text message app, called Silent Phone, after Greitens had resigned and Parson took over. Staff in the governor’s office began using Silent Phone during 2017 protests in St. Louis protests and later for overseas travel. Some holdovers from Greitens’ staff downloaded the app after he left office.

Parson has since said he’s banned the use of so-called burner apps like Confide and Silent Phone among his staff.

Over the four years Pedroli has been pursuing his lawsuit, he was able to determine that nearly every member of the former governor’s taxpayer-funded staff had a Confide account and that the app was being used to communicate both within the governor’s office and with outside allies and lobbyists.

Greitens is now running for the U.S. Senate.

“Just because the language was written in 1973,” Pedroli said of Missouri’s Sunshine Law, “I don’t think that means modern technology can escape the intent of the legislature of creating this full, comprehensive statutory framework to protect communications by government officials.”


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Women within Missouri GOP speak out against Eric Greitens as party remains silent

In just two weeks since allegations of domestic violence surfaced, Eric Greitens’ campaign for the U.S. Senate has been under siege from fellow Republicans urging him to drop out of the race.

With one notable exception.

The state party, which in recent years has denounced several candidates running under the GOP banner for behavior it considered beyond the pale, has remained silent on allegations by Greitens’ ex-wife that he physically abused her and their children.

But even as the Missouri Republican Party itself keeps quiet — its executive director, Charlie Dalton, did not respond to several requests seeking comment about Greitens — a handful of women with prominent roles within the paffrty have begun speaking out.

“I’m appalled that the Missouri Republican Party hasn’t put out a statement calling for Eric Greitens to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race,” said Rene Artman, a member of the party’s executive committee who also serves as chairwoman of the Republican central committee of St. Louis County.

“Eric Greitens disgraced the state as governor,” Artman continued, “and has somehow taken that disgrace to a new level with highly credible reports that he beat his then-wife and three year-old son. Eric Greitens does not have the character to represent Missouri.”

Joining Artman in publicly calling for Greitens to abandon his campaign are Carla Young, another member of the Missouri GOP’s executive committee; Pat Thomas, the party’s longtime treasurer; and the two women who led the party during the last election cycle, former Chairwoman Kay Hoflander and former Executive Director Jean Evans.

“By asking for our former governor to stop his campaign and focus on his family, I’m asking him to do the right thing for everyone,” Young said. “This is not the scandal-ridden leadership we need in Washington.”

Each has made it clear in their public statements that they are not speaking on behalf of the party.

Those familiar with discussions by Missouri GOP leaders told The Independent there was concern that a formal denouncement by the party itself would likely backfire and help Greitens’ anti-establishment campaign strategy. Any attempt to block him from the ballot, as the party has done with two state legislative candidates this year, was likely no longer possible since he’d already paid his filing fee.

And even if it could keep him off the August ballot, the party worried Greitens would simply run as an independent in the fall and surrender the seat to a Democrat.

The political conundrum may have the Missouri GOP biting its tongue, but it hasn’t dissuaded women who have long worked behind the scenes to build the party.

“If Republicans nominate Greitens, they seriously risk losing their credibility as the champions of family values issues,” said Thomas, who has served as treasurer for the party for years, including when Greitens was governor.

History of abuse allegations

Greitens was forced to resign from the Missouri governor’s office in 2018 to settle a felony charge and avoid impeachment.

His campaign to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt was pitched as his redemption tour, with Greitens claiming exoneration from the litany of accusations that ended his tenure as governor.

Since joining the campaign, he has led in polls of GOP primary voters, and a crowded field of candidates meant Greitens could claim the nomination without winning a majority — just like he did during his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2016.

But last month, an affidavit filed by Greitens’ ex-wife as part of an ongoing child custody battle threatened to upend his campaign.

Greitens was accused of “unstable and coercive” behavior, including physically abusing their children. His ex-wife described numerous acts of violence, and said Greitens became so unstable in the months before his resignation in 2018 that his access to firearms had to be limited.

A spokesman for Greitens’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but the former governor has denied all of his ex-wife’s allegations and has accused her of coordinating with his political enemies to undermine his campaign for Senate.

Yet the latest charges echo those made by a woman with whom Greitens had a brief affair in 2015.

She testified under oath in 2018 as part of impeachment proceedings that Greitens taped her hands to pull-up rings in his basement, blindfolded her, spit water into her mouth, ripped open her shirt, pulled down her pants and took a photo of her to use as blackmail to keep her from talking about their relationship.

The woman said that as she tried to leave the basement, Greitens grabbed her in a “bear hug” and laid her on the floor. Then he started fondling her, pulled out his penis and coerced her into oral sex while she wept “uncontrollably.”

The allegations led to a felony invasion of privacy charge that was dropped during jury selection when a judge agreed to allow Greitens’ attorneys to call the prosecutor as a witness. A special prosecutor decided against refiling charges, citing statutes of limitation that had or were about to pass and potentially missing evidence.

Evans, the former executive director of the Missouri GOP, said Greitens has a demonstrated pattern of abusive behavior, pointing to run ins he had with former political rivals, fellow Republicans in the legislature and the women who accused him of physical violence.

“He bullied his opponents in the gubernatorial primary, bullied legislators, bullied women and even bullied his own children,” she said.

Public condemnation

Twice this year, the Missouri GOP has sought to block candidates from running under the party’s banner by rejecting their filing fee.

The party refused to accept filing fees from state Rep. Patricia Derges, a Nixa Republican under federal indictment over allegations she sold fake stem cell treatments, and Steve West, who has previously sought a Kansas City-area House seat despite years of racist and anti-semitic statements.

But because candidate filing ended last week, and Greitens filed and paid his fee in February, only a court order could remove him involuntarily from the August primary ballot.

That leaves public condemnation as the only strategy for Greitens’ critics, something the party has thus far declined to do.

His top two rivals for the nomination — U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt — haven’t been as reticent.

Hartzler, who demanded Greitens resign as governor in early 2018 after the first round of accusations emerged, called the latest allegations part of a “pattern of criminal behavior that makes Eric unfit to hold any public office.”

Even Schmitt, who was one of the few Missouri Republicans holding a major office who never weighed in during Greitens’ 2018 downfall, broke his silence soon after Greitens’ ex-wife’s affidavit became public.

He now says Greitens should “be in prison, not on the ballot for U.S. Senate.”

Greitens has shown no indication he’s even considering dropping out, doubling down on his campaign strategy of painting all allegations of wrongdoing as part of a “witch hunt” against him.

Hoflander, the former chairwoman of the state party, noted that the two women alleging abuse against Greitens did so under oath, something the former governor has steadfastly refused to do.

“What reasonable, even what sane, stable person, would run for office under these circumstances?” she said. “I call on him to step aside and get his life in order and not have his personal troubles ‘be’ the story.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

New Eric Greitens abuse allegations reignite GOP fears of losing Missouri Senate seat

The prospect of Eric Greitens capturing the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri was already terrifying to his party’s leaders.

He had been forced out of the governor’s office in 2018, resigning to settle felony charges and avoid impeachment by a Republican legislative supermajority.

Yet despite all that, he’s consistently led in polls of GOP primary voters, causing party leaders to publicly fret that his scandal-plagued resume could cost the party an otherwise safe U.S. Senate seat — especially if any other skeletons emerged from his closet.

Those fears seemed to be confirmed on Monday, when the former governor’s ex-wife accused him of physically abusing her and his children.

The allegations, included in a sworn affidavit filed by former Missouri First Lady Sheena Greitens as part of an ongoing child custody dispute, claim he became so unstable in the months before his resignation in 2018 that his access to firearms had to be limited.

The news rocked the already chaotic GOP Senate primary, where multiple candidates have been jockeying for position in the hopes of being the party’s Greitens alternative. And it set off alarm bells in Washington, D.C., where Republican hopes of capturing a Senate majority this November could be put at risk if Democrats can make Missouri competitive.

“I don’t know why you would want to continue the race in this case,” U.S. Sen. John Thune, the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate, told reporters Monday. “I mean, it just seems like with that coupled with all the other scandals it’s hard to see how he could be a viable general election candidate.”

Each of Greitens’ main rivals for the nomination called on him to leave the race Monday. So did U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, who has long feuded with his fellow Missouri Republican and was among the first prominent elected officials to call for him to step down in 2018.

Even Austin Chambers, Greitens’ former campaign manager and closest political advisor during his time as governor, tweeted that the allegations were “disgusting, but not surprising unfortunately.”

Yet Greitens remained defiant Monday, retreating to the friendly confines of right-wing media to claim his ex-wife was coordinating with his enemies in Washington, D.C. and to drape himself in the grievances of other prominent Republicans who have faced sexual assault accusations — former President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“Your audience has seen this. You’ve seen the lies against President Trump. You saw the lies against Brett Kavanaugh,” Greitens said during an interview with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. “RINOs are now working to make more false allegations.”

He denied all of his ex-wife’s allegations and vowed to produce evidence connecting his ex-wife to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who Greitens has vowed to oppose if he joins the Senate next year — a position seen as a direct attempt at currying the favor and possible endorsement of Trump.

Meanwhile in Missouri, the 41-page affidavit from Greitens’ ex-wife now hangs like a shadow over the Senate primary.

She claims that as his political career became engulfed in scandal, and his aspirations for the White House began to crumble around him, Greitens became increasingly violent — toward her, toward his children and even toward himself.

Things got so bad, she claimed in the affidavit, that she began sleeping in her children’s room to keep them safe from their father, who was not only physically abusive but repeatedly threatened to commit suicide.

The allegations echo the ones that ended Greitens’ tenure as governor.

A woman with whom Greitens had an affair in 2015 testified twice under oath in 2018 that he led her down to his basement, taped her hands to pull-up rings, blindfolded her, spit water into her mouth, ripped open her shirt, pulled down her pants and took a photo without her consent.

She said that as she tried to leave, Greitens grabbed her in a “bear hug” and laid her on the floor, fondled her, pulled out his penis and coerced her into oral sex while she wept “uncontrollably.”

Two of the woman’s friends testified that she told them a similar story at the time of the incident, as did the woman’s ex-husband.

A bipartisan legislative committee — five Republicans and two Democrats – concluded that the woman’s testimony was credible and began impeachment proceedings.

The felony charge that stemmed from that allegation was eventually dropped by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who cited statutes of limitation that had or were about to pass and potentially missing evidence.

But a second felony charge, surrounding allegations that he stole from a veteran’s charity, was only settled as part of a plea agreement that included his resignation from office.


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican Josh Hawley refuses to stop selling mug featuring pre-riot Jan. 6 fist pump

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s campaign will continue selling merchandise featuring a photo of him pumping his fist in support of protesters the day a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the outcome of the presidential election.

The photo in question was taken by a photographer for an energy and environment trade publication owned by Politico. Hawley’s campaign began last month selling coffee mugs and other items featuring an illustrated version of the photo.

Last week, Politico sent a cease and desist letter asking the campaign to stop selling items featuring the copyrighted image.

“We do not authorize its use by the Hawley campaign for the purpose of political fundraising, which the campaign has been put on notice of by legal counsel,” Politico spokesperson Brad Dayspring said.

In response, Hawley’s campaign sent out a press release Friday saying the image fell under “fair use” laws.

“The image used on the mug is a protected fair use and the Hawley campaign’s speech is further protected by the First Amendment,” wrote Jessica Furst Johnson, Hawley’s campaign counsel, in a letter sent to the media. “Neither the campaign nor Sen. Hawley will engage in self-censorship to placate the legally baseless demands of your client.”

Taken as Hawley was entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the photo shows him raising his fist in support of demonstrators who had gathered to protest the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

Hawley had a few weeks earlier announced he would object to the certification when Congress convened to ratify the results of the 2020 election. When the day finally arrived, he was greeted as a hero by protesters.

Later in the day, however, the protests turned violent, with a pro-Trump mob forcing its way into the Capitol and on to the floor of the House and Senate, endangering lawmakers, staffers and reporters who were evacuated to an undisclosed location.

Congress was able to eventually reconvene and certify Biden’s victory, though even after the day’s violence Hawley continued to argue Pennsylvania’s electoral votes should be disqualified because he believes a 2019 law approved by the state’s Republican legislature and sustained by the state’s supreme court violates the Pennsylvania constitution.

Hawley faced accusations that his rhetoric and actions in the days leading up to the certification vote contributed to the violence.

Among the loudest critics is his political mentor — former U.S. Sen. John Danforth — who said working to get Hawley elected to the Senate in 2018 “was the worst mistake I ever made in my life.” State Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican from Ballwin running for St. Louis County executive, tweeted that he regretted voting for Hawley in 2018.

For his part, however, Hawley has always defended his actions on Jan. 6, telling the Washington Post that the demonstrators he encountered when he was captured raising his fist were peaceful.

“Some of them were calling, so I gestured toward them,” he said. “They had every right to be there… When I walked by that particular group of folks were standing there peacefully behind police barricades.”

In the year since the Jan. 6 insurrection, the stolen election lie has continued to grow in power within the GOP base, fueled by the former president and his supporters working to cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 campaign.

Many Republicans have also begun to downplay the significance of the Jan 6 violence that resulted in five deaths. The Republican National Committee voted to censure GOP members of Congress who participate in an inquiry Jan. 6, saying the probe amounted to persecution for “legitimate political discourse.”


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Missouri legislature returns with GOP infighting hanging over a lengthy agenda

Missouri lawmakers return to the state Capitol Monday to kick off the second half of the 2022 legislative session, facing a laundry list of unfinished business and simmering dysfunction.

The Missouri House, which passed a parade of legislative priorities during the first half of the session, will return to tackle a state budget overflowing with surplus cash.

Across the Capitol rotunda in the state Senate, Republicans simply hope to put the last three months of vitriolic infighting — and the resulting procedural gridlock — in the rearview mirror.

Whether the bad blood in the Senate can be put to bed will ultimately determine whether either chamber can declare the session a success when the General Assembly adjourns for the year at 6 p.m. on May 13.

“The Senate is, by nature, and by the way that it was formed, meant to be deliberative,” said Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. “And in some cases, very, very deliberative. It was not meant to be dysfunctional.”

Sen. Mike Moon, an Ash Grove Republican who has frequently used the filibuster to derail the chamber this session — usually by reading aloud to halt progress on routine procedures — made it clear he has no intention of going quietly into the night.

“One of the primary functions of government is to protect the God-given rights of our Missouri citizens and residents,” he said. “We tend to pass bills that strip liberty and freedom from Missouri hands, every single session. … I prefer not to pass bills that are stripping liberties and freedoms. And if that takes reading a book, then I’ll read a book.”

GOP vs. GOP

The biggest task left undone from the first half of the 2022 session remains redrawing Missouri’s congressional maps.

The once-a-decade redistricting process sailed smoothly through the House only to run aground in the Senate, where the GOP factions that have been at war with each other for more than a year squared off on just how much to gerrymander a Democratic district in Kansas City.

Republican leaders backed a map that essentially kept the partisan breakdown of the state’s delegation unchanged, with six safe Republican districts and two Democratic districts in Kansas City and St. Louis.

The seven members of the Senate’s conservative caucus, however, demanded a map that cracked the Kansas City district and combined it with a huge swath of rural counties to make it possible for the GOP to capture the seat.

The “6-2” vs. “7-1” debate came to a head in February when the conservative caucus began a filibuster that blocked progress not only on the redistricting plan but also on basically every other bill. At one point, two Republican Senators got into a shouting match and had to be physically separated.

Since then, conservative caucus filibusters have become the norm, with the Senate regularly unable to conduct business.

Missouri remains one of only a few states that has yet to enact new congressional districts following the 2020 census. The impasse inspired a lawsuit, filed on behalf of Missouri voters by Democratic attorneys, asking a court to intervene.

Only one piece of legislation this year — a supplemental budget bill to keep government services functioning — has managed to navigate the discord and find its way to the governor’s desk.

The Senate drama reached arguably its ugliest point in the days just before legislative spring break, during debate over a bill establishing a bill of rights for survivors of sexual assault.

Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, tried to attach an amendment to criminalize “obscene” material in schools. The sponsor of the sexual assault survivors legislation, GOP Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder of Sikeston, pleaded with him to drop the amendment out of concern it would be a poison pill that would kill the entire bill.

Brattin refused, and the bill was set aside.

The next day, Rehder convened a press conference, and surrounded by nine Democrats and 13 Republicans, blasted the conservative caucus for “constant adversarial and classless actions.”

Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican and conservative caucus member, responded by saying the press conference was evidence GOP leadership didn’t want peace in the chamber, which he said would result in the Senate functioning like “a square wheel for the next eight weeks.”

COVID, guns and abortion

While the Senate struggled, the House churned through a litany of Republican priority legislation.

The chamber approved bills seeking to block vaccine mandates and restrict the power of hospitals and nursing homes to limit patient visitors. It passed a pair of school-choice measures — one shifting funds to charter schools and another creating an open enrollment system.

Bills enacting a photo ID requirement to cast a ballot and making it harder to amend the state constitution through the initiative petition process also found success. And it approved bills allowing firearms on public transportation, reducing the age requirement for a concealed carry permit and removing a prohibition on carrying of firearms in churches and other places of worship.

Upon its return Monday, the House is expected to debate bills restricting access to abortion — including a proposal to make it illegal to “aid or abet” abortions outlawed in Missouri, even if they are conducted in other states.

“We’re extremely proud of what (we’ve) been able to accomplish and we’re hopeful the Senate will be able to take up many of these measures and pass them into law in the final eight weeks when we return from break,” House Speaker Rob Vescovo and House Majority Leader Dean Plocher said in a prepared statement.

But whether or not the Senate can come unstuck remains to be seen.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, called the Senate dysfunction a double edge sword. It means a lot of good bills may end up dying, but it also could kill a lot of proposals her party believes are bad for Missouri.

“Here in the House, we’re seeing a whole bunch of attacks against voter access, and we’re seeing a lot of bills that our caucus is against,” she said. “And so yes, in some ways, we are happy with what’s going on in the Senate. It makes our jobs a little bit easier when it comes to trying to push back against that.”

Rowden hinted just before spring break that GOP leaders are considering all options to break through the gridlock — including going nuclear and using procedural maneuvers to thwart conservative caucus filibusters.

“I think we certainly are at a point where everything is on the table,” Rowden said. “Everything has to be on the table, because the thing that we cannot afford is to continue to embarrass ourselves in front of the people of Missouri by saying we are not able, willing, competent, whatever the word is, enough to do what they sent us here to do.”


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Missouri governor digs in against evidence absolving reporter he accused of being a ‘hacker’

Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday once again refused to accept the conclusions of an investigation by the highway patrol and Cole County prosecutor surrounding a reporter who uncovered a security flaw in a state website.
Speaking to a gathering of reporters and editors in the governor’s mansion for Missouri Press Association Day, Parson restated his accusation that a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stole the personal information of teachers.

“I don’t think anybody should go in and take people’s private information,” Parson said, adding: “Nobody has the right to take people’s personal information out and share it.”

In fact, as documented in a 158-page investigative report compiled by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson, the reporter simply looked at the source coding of a publicly available state website — something that is typically available to anyone using a web browser.

What he discovered was that teacher Social Security numbers were mistakenly contained in the source code. Parson appears to believe what the reporter did next — contacting teachers he knew personally to confirm the Social Security numbers were real — constitutes stealing their personal information.

That wasn’t the conclusion of either law enforcement or the prosecutor, who declined to press charges.

Thompson told The Independent that if any crime was committed it was both unintentional and based on a law so broad and vague it essentially criminalizes “using a computer to look up someone’s information.”

“Our investigation did not uncover any evidence that any of the (Social Security) numbers had been compromised,” Thompson said.

Once the reporter confirmed the Social Security numbers of hundreds of thousands of teachers were at risk of public disclosure, he notified the state, explained how he found the flaw and promised not to publish anything until the issue was fixed.

State officials wanted to thank him. But the governor instead convened a press conference to call the reporter a hacker and push for a criminal investigation.

Even after the prosecutor’s public statements explaining why charges wouldn’t be filed, Parson has refused to back down from his claims.

His reiteration of his allegations against the reporter Thursday came moments after greeting members of the media from around the state at the mansion with an exhortation of his commitment to transparency and press freedom.

He said that since he took over as governor from his scandal-plagued and media-averse predecessor, Eric Greitens, he’s worked to “change the way the governor’s office reacted to the media.

“I think it’s very important for people in elected positions or true public servants to be transparent,” he said. “I really do.”

Yet Parson’s relationship with the press has been much more complicated. The governor regularly lashes out at perceived slights and criticism, culminating with his push for criminal prosecution of the Post-Dispatch reporter who he accused of trying to use the security flaw to embarrass his administration.

In January, records obtained by The Independent showed that among the governor’s legislative priorities are changes to the state’s Sunshine Law that would permit government agencies to withhold more information from the public and charge more for any records that are turned over.

Last summer, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Parson’s office cannot charge for time attorneys spend reviewing public records in case that alleged the office improperly redacted public records, charged exorbitant fees and knowingly and purposely violated the state’s open records law.

Also at Thursday’s event, Parson was asked about the Republican primary to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

The governor has not endorsed anyone in the race, and on Thursday declined to say whether he would be willing to support Greitens if he were to be the party’s nominee.

Greitens resigned from office in 2018 while facing impeachment and felony charges. Many Republicans worry he could cost the party the Senate seat if he were to emerge from the primary victorious.

While Parson acknowledged he “didn’t like the things that occurred when he was governor,” he declined to weigh into the race either in support or opposition of any candidate on Thursday.

“I think there are a lot of really good candidates,” Parson said, later adding that his position on whether to endorse “may change.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Claim that reporter hacked Missouri state website was debunked. But GOP governor still says he's a criminal

For four months, Gov. Mike Parson tried to convince Missourians that a reporter who discovered a security flaw in a state website was a hacker who deserved criminal prosecution.

His argument crashed headlong into reality on Monday, when the 158-page investigative file produced by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Cole County prosecutor was finally released and showed no evidence of anything that even resembled computer hacking.

Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson declined to press charges, saying that if any crime was committed it was both unintentional and based on a law so broad and vague it essentially criminalizes “using a computer to look up someone’s information.”

“Our investigation did not uncover any evidence that any of the (Social Security) numbers had been compromised,” Thompson said Monday in an interview with The Independent.

These revelations did little to dissuade the governor.

On Tuesday, Parson once again doubled down on the idea that the reporter was a criminal for uncovering a security flaw that left more than 500,000 teacher Social Security numbers exposed.

“The big thing is, why did you take people’s personal information out?” Parson said, according to KMOX. “If you just wanted to disclose it as a problem, you could have done that without taking anybody’s personal information. That’s where the real crime is. Where’s that information at? What did they do with that information?”

The truth is far simpler and less sinister.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Josh Renaud explained to investigators how he discovered that a state website that lists teachers’ names and certification status also accidentally exposed their Social Security numbers.

He was using the publicly available website to build a data set of local teacher certifications for a potential news story and needed to look at the website’s source code to figure out the best way to collect the information.

A website’s source code is typically available to anyone using a web browser.

Renaud saw that embedded in the coding was a parameter labeled “Educator SSN” and a nine-digit number below it.

To confirm that he’d just stumbled upon a potential problem, he reached out to teachers he knew personally to verify these were, in fact, their Social Security numbers. He also enlisted the help of Shaji Khan, an associate professor at University of Missouri-St. Louis and director of its Cybersecurity Institute.

It appears the process Renaud used to confirm the problem is what Parson is conflating with taking “people’s personal information out.”

Once Renaud was convinced the Social Security numbers of hundreds of thousands of teachers were at risk of public disclosure, he notified the state, explained how he found the flaw and promised not to publish anything until the issue was fixed.

State education officials initially wanted to thank Renaud for discovering the problem that, as investigators would learn, has existed undetected since 2011. And an FBI agent who looked at the incident informed the state that it was “not an actual network intrusion,” noting that the website in question “allowed open source tools to be used to query data that should not be public.”

State officials made it clear the information was on a public site, it was not encrypted or password protected and the reporter was not anywhere he wasn’t allowed.

The governor decided to blame a government failing on the reporter who discovered it.

– Katherine Jacobsen, program coordinator with the Committee to Protect Journalists

Despite all this, Parson convened a press conference to label the reporter a “hacker” and demand a highway patrol investigation. He accused the Post-Dispatch of trying to use the security flaw to embarrass him, and his political action committee launched ads to raise money off Parson’s attacks.

Parson’s attack drew mockery on social media from cyber security experts — and at least one GOP lawmaker — who pilloried the governor for calling someone who looks at HTML coding of a website a “hacker.”

In Missouri political circles, the governor’s public crusade against Renaud was also largely laughed off as a fit of pique by a governor with a renowned temper and habit of lashing out against anyone he perceives as a critic — reporters, health officials and even Republican legislative leaders.

But to those at the center of the investigation Parson’s attacks inspired, the last four months were no laughing matter.

While he was confident he would ultimately be vindicated, Renaud told St. Louis On the Air that he endured plenty of sleepless nights as possible criminal charges hung over his head.

“He wronged me in a very public way,” Renaud said of the governor. “He accused me of being a criminal and instigated a criminal investigation. … We cannot allow political officials to persecute journalists for publishing things they don’t like.”

Khan, the cybersecurity professor who helped confirm the security flaw for the Post-Dispatch, said through his attorney that he and his family were “terrorized for four months due to the governor’s use of state law enforcement officers for his political purposes.”

Beyond the personal toll on those who were under investigation, using anti-hacking laws to retaliate against unflattering reporting “raises grave constitutional concerns,” said Grayson Clary, a legal fellow at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

“It’s just not reasonable to read laws like this in a way that would make criminals out of vast numbers of ordinary internet users,” Clary said.

“These laws are intended to deal with true hacking, you know, the outsider who cracks a password,” he said. “And when you extend them beyond that point, you start to run into clear constitutional concerns, especially if they give public officials as much power as the governor thinks he has to quash critical reporting.”

Katherine Jacobsen, program coordinator with the Committee to Protect Journalists, said it’s concerning to see an elected official try to use law enforcement to go after a journalist.

“The governor decided to blame a government failing on the reporter who discovered it,” she said.

She worries the governor’s actions will have a chilling effect on journalism, with news organizations fearful that critical coverage could result in criminal accusations and hefty legal bills.

“It signals that merely doing due diligence reporting in the public interest could create legal troubles for journalists,” Jacobson said. “Having this kind of drawn out legal battle or threat of a legal battle kind of hanging over, it puts strain on budgets, it puts strain on resources and creates a sense of greater mistrust of the media.”

Mark Maassen, executive director of the Missouri Press Association, said Renaud and the Post-Dispatch “did nothing wrong.”

“If anything,” he said, “they did (the department of education) a favor by acting responsibly and letting them know of the potential problem.”


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

NOW WATCH: Trump mocked for saying US forces launched an 'amphibious' attack

'Person Woman Aquaman Camera TV': Trump mocked for saying US forces launched an 'amphibious' attack www.youtube.com

'It's a nightmare': Texts reveal last-ditch efforts to save Missouri's health director

The questions from state senators hadn’t even begun, and Donald Kauerauf’s staff were already in a panic.

Chants from protesters opposing his nomination as state health director echoed through the hearing room, and as she sat with Kauerauf waiting for his turn to testify, Lisa Cox, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, sent a text message to her counterpart in Gov. Mike Parson’s office.

“In the hearing room,” Cox wrote. “It’s a nightmare.”

Kauerauf had been Parson’s health director for barely five months, but in that time he’d managed to become a villain in the eyes of hardline conservative senators who held his fate in their hands.

He showed up to his confirmation hearing on Jan. 31 a dead-man walking, with protesters gathered in the Capitol hallways calling for his head and members of the Senate conservative caucus out for blood.

Text messages and emails obtained by The Independent through open records requests detail the desperate efforts of Parson administration officials to salvage Kauerauf’s nomination in the final days before it went down in flames.

Close aides to the governor, as well as Kauerauf’s DHSS staff, tried to navigate the treacherous waters of a badly divided Missouri Senate. But in the end, a combination of factors — anger in the GOP base over COVID mitigation efforts, misinformation about Kauerauf’s positions, a delayed confirmation process due to a redistricting filibuster and a massive snowstorm on the eve of a constitutional deadline — rendered their efforts fruitless.

‘You’re fighting stupidity’

Kauerauf was supposed to get a confirmation hearing on Jan. 26.

But after hours of waiting, as the conservative caucus held the Senate floor to decry a proposed Congressional map, the hearing was canceled and rescheduled for the following Monday.

The delay gave Kauerauf the chance to continue making the rounds with state senators. But it appears, at least according to text messages that night, things weren’t going well.

Kauerauf texted Alex Tuttle, the governor’s legislative budget director, saying he was frustrated with the process.

Tuttle tried to lighten the mood, texting a joke about how “if we vented our frustrations to a random bartender” his “head would explode.”

But Kauerauf wasn’t having it.

“I’m serious Alex,” he wrote. “I need cover from senators that don’t have the stones to be honest with me. Getting real frustrated. Only one appointment was going to cause issues and feeling isolated.”

Tuttle suggested the two speak the following day.

“This is not your fault or anything you’ve done,” Tuttle wrote. “You’re fighting stupidity.”

Later that night, Adam Crumbliss, Kauerauf’s top lieutenant in DHSS, texted several Parson administration officials, including Robert Knodell, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff and former acting DHSS director who now serves as director of the Department of Social Services.

“We need to all circle up tomorrow morning,” Crumbliss wrote. “We have a few different paths toward tamping difficulties, but Don’s looking for some additional support on getting us where we need to close gaps and ranks.”

The group of officials — including Crubmliss; Knodell; Tuttle; Kyle Aubuchon, Parson’s board and commission chair; and Michael Oldweiler, DHSS’ director of legislative affairs — agreed to meet about the situation.

The next morning, Crumbliss and Aubuchon exchanged text messages in the group chat about which Republican senators they needed to focus on, with Crumbliss ranking them:

  1. Bob Onder
  2. Mike Moon
  3. Paul Wieland
  4. Bill White
  5. Bill Eigel

“We should be good on Bean,” Crumbliss wrote, referencing Sen. Jason Bean, R-Holcomb, who serves on the gubernatorial appointments committee.

Aubuchon texted that he just met with Wieland, R-Imperial, and that the senator wanted proof “that Don is pro-life… news article or something …thinks in Illinois Don said he’d be pro-choice to get a job there, then move to Missouri and say he’s pro-life to get a job here.”

Aubuchon said he’d been told by Sen. Kara Eslinger, R-De Soto, that she would vote for Kauerauf if he gave a straightforward answer in opposition to vaccine and mask mandates.

“She doesn’t want a long rambling answer on this,” Aubuchon wrote.

He also informed the group of his meeting with Moon.

“Just followed up with Moon,” Aubachon wrote. “Said Don just visited with him and it went really well. Hopes Don does well at the committee hearing on Monday, and says it’s ‘very likely’ he’ll be voting yes for Don.”

Aubuchon’s impression of Moon’s position, however, doesn’t correspond with emails obtained from the senator’s office through an open records request.

The day before the senator spoke with Aubuchon, Moon’s legislative assistant sent emails to more than a dozen people who had reached out to his office to express opposition to Kauerauf’s nomination.

“Thank you for contacting the office of Senator Moon,” he wrote in each response. “Also, thank you for allowing your voice to be heard by expressing your concerns to us about Donald Kauerauf. After some research and discussion, the senator has decided to oppose Mr. Kauerauf’s appointment.”

In fact, the same day Aubuchon expressed hope that Moon might support Kauerauf, Moon’s legislative assistant emailed the six other members of the Senate conservative caucus with a pair of documents that would prove fatal to the nomination.

“The first document is a timeline of everything he has said that may be of concern since he was appointed as Director of Health and Senior Services,” the email said. “The second document is a letter we received which explains SHIELD, a test to stay coercion tactic used by the state of Illinois to mandate a health passport. This document thanks Judy Kauerauf (the wife of Donald Kauerauf) at the beginning letter for implementing this system in Illinois. Donald Kauerauf wants to do the same in Missouri.”

The following day, Moon emailed a constituent who had voiced opposition to Kauerauf: “I agree with you and will use my influence on the gubernatorial appointments committee to oppose his confirmation.”

‘The clock is the enemy here’

Tuttle wasn’t having any better luck with another member of the conservative caucus.

He texted the group of administration officials the he had spoken with Onder, who expressed concerns about Kauerauf’s public comments on a bill passed by lawmakers curbing the authority of local health departments, as well as “vax mandate rhetoric, stance on abortion, etc.”

But Tuttle did have some good news to report. He texted that he met with Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, and “his entire caucus is behind Don.”

The Friday before Kauerauf was scheduled to face the gubernatorial appointments committee, Aubuchon shared information with the group chat about an anti-Kauerauf rally that had been scheduled for Monday in the Missouri Capitol, the day of the confirmation hearing.

The rally’s announcement, which Aubachon shared via text, incorrectly implied Kauerauf supported “forced vaccination.”

When Kauerauf’s confirmation hearing two days earlier was rescheduled, it gave his critics time to organize, and they were flooding senate offices with calls and emails. Now, they were planning to gather in the Capitol in the hopes of sinking the nomination once and for all.

Crumbliss responded to the news by pushing for someone to reach out to Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden.

“The clock is the enemy here,” Crumbliss wrote, a reference to the fact that the state constitution required Kauerauf’s nomination be confirmed by the following Friday or he would be banned from serving in the position for life.

Crumbliss also floated the idea of trying to get an opinion piece written by Kauerauf published in a pro-Parson newspaper over the weekend. Knodell offered to help facilitate if need be.

Kaurerauf, however, later questioned whether that would be a good idea.

“Could be a huge mistake with the work that has been done by all,” he texted to Tuttle.

That day, Crumbliss also texted Parson’s chief of staff, Aaron Willard: “Don is going to call you at some point this afternoon.”

‘Is this serious?’

On Monday, protesters rallied in the Capitol rotunda, with members of the Senate conservative caucus addressing the group about their issues with Kauerauf’s nomination. Then they moved to the third floor, just outside the hearing room where Kauerauf was set to testify before the gubernatorial appointments committee.

In the midst of the protests, Knodell texted screenshots of tweets by Onder incorrectly referring to Kauerauf as “Ron” and saying the gubernatorial appointments committee was not planning on giving Kauerauf’s nomination a vote that day.

“Is this serious?” Knodell texted the group.

“Yes,” Crumbliss replied.

Less than a half hour into the hearing, and before Kauerauf had even been called to testify, Cox, the DHSS spokeswoman, sent her text sounding the alarm to the governor’s office.

She was quickly informed that a statement in Kauerauf’s defense would be released shortly.

“It’s concerning to see certain Missouri officials grandstanding for purely political reasons and fueling fears without any regard for the truth,” Parson’s statement read.

But the governor’s condemnation had little, if any, impact.

Senators grilled Kauerauf for nearly two hours on his views on how best to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, his past comments about vaccination, his wife’s job in Illinois and his position on abortion.

The next day, with senators eager to adjourn to avoid a looming snow storm, GOP leaders announced Kauerauf’s nomination would not get a vote.

It was over.

Kauerauf resigned, and Parson appointed DHSS General Counsel Richard Moore to replace him on an interim basis.

“Throughout this process, more care was given to political gain than the harm caused to a man and his family,” Parson said in announcing Kauerauf’s resignation. “Don is a devoted public servant who did not deserve this, and Missourians deserve better.”

For those who opposed Kauerauf’s nomination, it was time to rejoice.

“We won!” Moon wrote in an email to a constituent who’d reached out urging him to block Kauerauf’s nomination. “It was a team effort. I’m grateful to have been entrusted to play a part. What a great victory!”


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican congressman accuses Josh Hawley of lying to him

U.S. Rep. Billy Long is accusing Sen. Josh Hawley of lying to his face about whether or not he was set to endorse in Missouri’s GOP Senate primary.

During a Tuesday morning interview with KCMO’s Pete Mundo, Long said he spoke with Hawley in August and again last Wednesday about whether he had plans to endorse U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler.

Long said he assumed the endorsement was inevitable after Hartzler hired the same political consulting firm that ran Hawley’s campaigns for attorney general in 2016 and Senate in 2018.

“I’m sitting three feet from him, looking at me in the eye, and I said, ‘You know, it looks to me like you’re getting pretty close to endorsing Hartzler.’” Long told Mundo about his meeting with Hawley last week.

Long said Hawley responded: “Oh, no, no, I’m not anywhere near close to endorsing Hartzler.”

On Saturday, Hawley formally endorsed Hartzler at Lincoln Days in St. Charles.

“I want people to be honest with me,” Long said Tuesday. “I would rather Josh have looked at me and said, ‘Billy, look, you know, your fundraising, you don’t have the money coming in, you’re down in the polls and we need to find somebody who can beat (Eric) Greitens and, you know, yeah, I’m probably getting pretty close to endorsing Hartzler.’

“I’d rather, you know, be honest with me,” Long continued, “don’t let me know, less than 72 hours before you announce your endorsement and tell me it’s not close.”

A source familiar with the details of last week’s meeting insists Long never specifically asked Hawley about whether he was planning to endorse Hartzler.

Long said that after Hawley’s endorsement was announced he spoke privately with one of the other candidates vying for the GOP nomination — Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

Schmitt, according to Long, said Hawley had also told him just days earlier that he wasn’t set to endorse Hartzler.

“He said, ‘I called him and asked him the exact same thing, that it looks like you’re getting ready to endorse Hartzler, and he assured me he wasn’t,’” Long said.

Long went on to imply that Hawley and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been conspiring to consolidate support behind one candidate who can take down former Gov. Eric Greitens, who is considered the race’s frontrunner despite being forced to resign in 2018 to avoid impeachment and to settle felony charges.

“Everyone’s goal in D.C. and the swamp is to pick one person that can, you know, beat Eric Greitens,” Long said.

A spokesman for Hawley’s campaign declined to comment on Long’s interview, but noted that Hawley made his final decision to endorse Hartzler a day before making it public.

Schmitt’s campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.

Long announced last August that he would forgo running for another term in Congress representing southwest Missouri to run for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Roy Blunt.

Public polling of the six-way primary has consistently showed Long in single digits, with Hartzler, Schmitt Greitens leading the pack.

Like every candidate seeking the GOP nomination, Long has publicly courted former President Donald Trump’s support. Long was an early and outspoken supporter of the former president, and has made it no secret that he hopes his relationship with Trump can help him score an endorsement.

He reiterated that during his Tuesday interview with Mundo.

“I’m close with Trump,” he said. “I would love to have had his endorsement months ago. I don’t know if he’ll ever endorse.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Missouri prosecutor isn’t pressing charges against reporter who found flaw on state website

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter targeted by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson for uncovering a security flaw in a state-run website won’t face criminal charges.

The decision comes after the governor spent months publicly labeling the reporter a “hacker” for discovering the flaw and notifying the state about it. Parson asked the state highway patrol to investigate and repeatedly said the reporter had committed a crime.

In a statement released on Twitter Friday evening, Post-Dispatch reporter Josh Renaud confirmed the Cole County prosecutor has declined to file charges.

“This decision is a relief. But it does not repair the harm done to me and my family,” Renaud said in his statement.

Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson did not respond to a request for comment Friday evening, though he released a statement to local media in Jefferson City confirming charges would not be filed.

In early October, Renaud discovered that Social Security numbers for teachers, administrators and counselors were visible in the HTML code of a publicly accessible site operated by the state education department. HTML code is the programming that tells the computer how to display a web page.

Emails obtained by The Independent show Renaud informed the state of the issue and promised to withhold publishing any story about it until the problem was fixed and the Social Security numbers were no longer exposed. He also laid out to state officials in an email the steps he’d taken to find and confirm the security flaw. That included contacting three teachers to verify the information in the HTML code was their Social Security number.

Yet despite the fact that officials within the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education initially wanted to thank Renaud for uncovering the flaw, and that an FBI agent told the department the incident “is not an actual network intrusion,” Parson labeled the reporter a hacker and called for criminal prosecution.

Renaud said his actions were “entirely legal and consistent with established journalistic principles.”

“This was a political persecution of a journalist,” Renaud said, “plain and simple.”

Elad Gross, an attorney representing Shaji Khan, a cybersecurity professor who helped confirm the security flaw for the Post-Dispatch, released a statement saying the “malicious prosecution pushed by the governor terrorized and silenced Mr. Renaud, Dr. Khan and their families for months.”

“No government in America should have the power to silence the press or its citizens through sham prosecutions and investigations,” Gross said.

Renaud said he worried the governor’s threats against him would deter people from reporting security or privacy flaws in Missouri government websites in the future, decreasing the chance those flaws get fixed.

Now that the investigation has run its course, “I pray Gov. Parson’s eyes will be opened, that he will see the harm he did to me and my family,” Renaud said, “that he will apologize and that he will show Missourians a better way.”

Parson’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, released a statement Friday night that continued to call the reporter a hacker.

Thompson, a Republican elected in 2018, said that while there is an argument to be made that there was a violation of law, “the issues at the heart of the investigation have been resolved through non-legal means.”

He didn’t respond to a request to clarify what he meant by “non-legal means.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

A year after Jan. 6 Capitol riot, a key purveyor of the ‘big lie’ is heading to Missouri

The night before the anniversary of a mob incited by false claims of a stolen election storming the U.S. Capitol, one of the main peddlers of the so-called “big lie” is scheduled to be in Missouri.

Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, sent out invitations late last month for a dinner in Jefferson City with Douglas Frank, a high school math teacher from Ohio who claims he discovered secret algorithms used to rig the 2020 election.

According to the invitation, which was first reported by Missouri Scout, the dinner will take place Wednesday, though the exact location is being withheld for “safety reasons.”

“Dr. Douglas Frank is looking forward to this great evening in Jefferson City with distinguished Missourians,” the invitation says. “Get to know the man behind the election data.”

Frank’s claims of a secret algorithm, along with other myths seeking to undermine President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, have been widely discredited. But that hasn’t stopped many adherents of the lie from latching on to his work.

Nor has it stopped Frank from gaining an audience with GOP elected officials from around the country.

That includes Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who has consistently said he does not believe voter fraud impacted the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

The Washington Post reported that Frank claims he “negotiated a deal” in which Ashcroft “agreed to take up the cause if we brought him 100 phantom voters.”

JoDonn Cherry, Ashcroft’s spokesman, said in an email to The Independent that he is “not aware of any ‘negotiated deal’ between the secretary and Douglas Frank and there is nothing on his calendar indicating a meeting between the two in the upcoming days.”

While Ashcroft and Frank have spoken previously, “I don’t have any further information regarding conversation details, when, how many times or if they will meet again,” Cherry wrote.

“As you know, the secretary is always happy to listen and talk with anyone, regardless of viewpoint, who has concerns or comments regarding election integrity and security as it pertains to Missouri elections,” Cherry said. “The secretary is committed to accessible, safe, secure elections with timely results that people can trust.”

Asked about her connection to Frank, Kelley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch she has served as his “chauffeur a couple of times when he’s been in Missouri.”

Earlier this year, Kelley testified to the Missouri House elections committee about attending a symposium in South Dakota organized by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has said he’s spent $25 million pushing the false claim that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

Frank’s visit also corresponds with the first day of the 2022 Missouri legislative session. Kelley is sponsoring a wide-ranging bill that, among other provisions, creates an “election integrity committee” to conduct post-election audits.

In the year since Trump supporters inspired by false allegations of election fraud breached the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, federal prosecutors have filed charges against more than 700 people who participated in the violence.

That figure includes 17 Missouri residents.

The first Missourian to be sentenced — 29-year-old Nicholas Burton Reimle, who received 36 months probation, $500 restitution and 60 hours community service — publicly apologized during a court hearing last month “to the people of this country for threatening their democracy.”

And while audits conducted at the behest of those questioning the 2020 outcome have consistently found no evidence of wrongdoing, most recently in Texas, the “big lie” that the election was stolen from Trump remains a powerful force within GOP politics.

Look no further than Missouri’s heated race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018 to avoid impeachment and felony charges, has made election fraud conspiracies a centerpiece of his campaign for the GOP nomination.

Three days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, attorney Mark McCloskey tweeted, “there is no question that the election was the result of massive fraud, there is no question that Donald Trump won the legitimate vote…”

Attorney General Eric Schmitt participated in lawsuits seeking to overturn the outcome of the presidential election, and a super PAC supporting him ran a web ad that included footage of Trump claiming “this election was rigged.”


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Missouri GOP political consultant gets probation in felony tax fraud case

David Barklage, a veteran lobbyist and political consultant in Missouri, was granted probation by a federal judge Thursday for failing to pay more than $150,000 in taxes over the course of a three-year period.

He was also ordered to pay restitution and perform 120 hours of community service.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for him to receive 12 to 18 months.

Barklage pled guilty to a felony tax charge in U.S. District Court in August. His attorney, Joseph Passanise, filed a sentencing memo with the court last month asking the judge take into account Barklage’s “good character” and “otherwise law-abiding and hard-working life.”

Passanise also provided the judge with numerous letters of support vouching for Barklage’s character, most coming from his clients and other political consultants.

The prosecution’s sentencing memo remains sealed from public view. Prosecuting the case was Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith, who specializes in public corruption cases and was the lead prosecutor in the indictment of former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.

In the 1990s, Barklage led campaign committees in both the Missouri House and Senate that eventually helped engineer the Republican takeover of the legislature for the first time in 50 years. He’s also long been a part of Gov. Mike Parson’s political team, most recently as a consultant for Uniting Missouri, a political action committee formed to help Parson win a full four-year term.

Barklage’s former business partner Robert Knodell, served as Parson’s deputy chief of staff before being named acting director of the Department of Social Services.

The indictment focuses on failure to report income from 2012 to 2014, a time when Barklage was in business with Knodell. During that time, the indictment says he failed to report $443,633 in income and failed to pay $151,843 in taxes.

Most of that income — $209,499 — came from a Missouri political campaign, the indictment says. Another $30,000 came from lobbying fees and $122,580 came from “an independent media producer” that is not named.

Barklage deposited all of these funds into his personal bank account, the indictment says, instead of his business bank accounts. These funds and earnings “were not included on Barklage’s tax returns for the years 2012, 2013, and 2014,” the indictment says.


Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.