JEFFERSON CITY — A St. Louis County attorney said in a Wednesday court filing that former Gov. Eric Greitens and his staffers should be forced to testify about their use of a smartphone app that automatically destroys text messages.
Mark Pedroli, who sued the Greitens administration in December, said that Greitens and his team violated a May 31 court order from Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, which ordered the governor's attorneys to turn over the names of anyone in the office who at any time downloaded or used the Confide app.
Greitens' attorneys turned over a list of 20 people who used the app, but Pedroli said in a Wednesday motion for sanctions that Greitens' office "concealed from this Court at least seven Office of Governor persons who downloaded and/or used Confide."
Pedroli said that because of the alleged omissions, Greitens and his staff should be forced to testify as punishment. Greitens' attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.
The filing marks the latest development in Pedroli's nine-month probe of Greitens' alleged violations of state open records laws, months after Attorney General Josh Hawley, who like Greitens is a Republican, found no evidence of wrongdoing. Hawley is running for U.S. Senate.
Pedroli said "evidence revealed" after June 1 showed at least seven staffers who were not mentioned in the list used or downloaded the app, including deputy legislative directors Brad Green and Jeffrey Earl. Pedroli said he would reveal the names of five other staffers at a later date.
"Defendants' concealment directly challenges the authority of this Court and calls for significant sanction," Pedroli wrote in his motion. "The former governor and some of his staff, at minimum, have long thumbed their noses at the Sunshine Law and the authority of this Court and, they must be held to account."
Pedroli wants to depose Greitens, his custodian of records Michelle Hallford, general counsel Lucinda Luetkemeyer, special counsel Sarah Madden, chief of staff Mike Roche, press secretary Parker Briden, deputy chief of staff Nick Maddux and policy director Will Scharf.
Hallford and Earl are the only staffers mentioned in the filing who still work in the governor's office, now led by Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican.
Pedroli also wants to depose the seven people concealed from the list "and any other person this Court believes is responsible for the evasive, incomplete or deceptive responses."
Pedroli has released copies of screenshots he obtained during discovery that he says show the governor's office used the Confide app to discuss substantial public business.
The Kansas City Star reported last month that Greitens' staff discussed Confide among themselves, and with people outside of the governor's office.
Pedroli said deposing witnesses would allow him to determine "the breadth and the scope" of Confide's use in the governor's office.
“Evidence continues to pour in demonstrating the use of Confide to conduct public business in the Greitens administration,” Pedroli told the Star. “Based on comments of others in and around government, I’m wondering if any public business was conducted on the record.”
Pedroli, on behalf of his client Ben Sansone of the Sunshine Project, has continued his probe despite Hawley's report in March that found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Greitens administration.
Hawley complained that he did not have subpoena power as he investigated Greitens. He issued a report on March 2 containing no evidence of wrongdoing, but his office only interviewed a handful of Greitens staffers and did not attempt to interview Greitens, who like Hawley is a Republican.
Hawley also did not attempt to obtain text messages by Greitens staffers that were not deleted, and his office did not try to reconstruct messages deleted by the app.
Pedroli, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit against the governor's office when it denied his Sunshine request last December — and copies of text messages he gleaned during discovery show, he says, that the app was used for substantial public business in violation of the law.
Pedroli thinks Hawley failed to aggressively investigate.
"A lawsuit should've been filed, which would've given him the subpoena power that he needed to get the answers to the questions under oath," Pedroli told the Post-Dispatch. "The question that the attorney general's office should ask itself is: How did a private attorney go ahead and get the subpoena power that he claims he couldn't get?"
Mary Compton, Hawley's spokeswoman, said in a written statement that the office could not bring the case to court because it did not discover a probable violation of the law.
"To file an enforcement lawsuit, the State must have evidence that establishes a probable violation of the law," she said. "This is why the Attorney General has called on the legislature to strengthen this Office’s investigative powers in the Sunshine context."
Pedroli responded: "We have the evidence."
Despite Hawley's lobbying efforts, legislation that would have boosted his Sunshine Law authority died in the Legislature this spring.