JEFFERSON CITY — Almost two years after Gov. Eric Greitens resigned, the House Republican leader said Tuesday he wanted to know more about $120,000 in cash delivered to an anti-Greitens attorney in early 2018.
House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that people “should learn the origins” of the money in question.
At issue is $120,000 the publisher of the Missouri Times, Scott Faughn, paid in January 2018 to Albert Watkins, a St. Louis attorney who represented the ex-husband of the woman with whom Greitens had an affair before becoming governor.
Watkins possessed audio the ex-husband had made of his wife in 2015 discussing her affair with Greitens and accusing him of taking a compromising photo of her.
Watkins has said Faughn met with him on Jan. 5, 2018, suggesting he knew a “wealthy Republican guy ... who didn’t like Greitens” and that it was “personal.”
Watkins said at the time of the meeting, rumors of Greitens’ affair were already widespread, and he had already provided the tape to the FBI and reporters, including from the Post-Dispatch, when he met Faughn.
Faughn told the House Special Investigative Committee on Oversight in May 2018 that the money was his.
“In America, it’s still OK to have cash money,” his attorney, Chuck Hatfield, said at the time.
Faughn had said he intended to write a book about Missouri politics, with Greitens featured prominently. He said in the May 2018 testimony that $100,000 was to purchase recordings and $20,000 was a retainer for Watkins.
Faughn, who also hosts a political roundtable show on television, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Despite the controversy generated by Faughn, top state officials, including current Gov. Mike Parson and House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, have appeared on his show.
Greitens, a Republican, resigned on June 1, 2018. He also was facing numerous allegations of campaign finance violations, and mounting pressure from lawmakers to resign.
Vescovo on Tuesday was presenting legislation that would strengthen the Legislature’s power to compel testimony from witnesses during an investigation.
The presentation followed a media blitz by Greitens, who emerged for a round of friendly interviews and social media posts last week after the Missouri Ethics Commission concluded a 20-month probe into his campaign.
“I do agree with our former governor and his family that the people we serve should know and should learn the origins of the $120,000 payment,” Vescovo said. “With that said, had the committee possessed some of the tools that are in this bill, maybe that would be a different story, and today, we would have answers that people deserve.
“He claims the committee ignored that component of the investigation,” Vescovo said of Greitens. “But the truth is: the committee had no way to compel that kind of testimony that could have uncovered the truth.”
During the hearing two years ago, Rep. Jay Barnes, the Jefferson City Republican who led the House investigation into Greitens, asked if the money came from representatives from the low-income housing tax credit industry, which Greitens angered by moving to cut off state funding.
“How did you get the cash?” Barnes said. “I don’t think you’re in the poorhouse, but I also don’t think you’re a multi-, multimillionaire.”
“I’m a hillbilly from west Butler County,” Faughn said.
Faughn also was asked if he spoke about the money with former House Speaker Steve Tilley, a lobbyist for Sterling Bank, which is involved in low-income housing tax credits.
Faughn said he didn’t think he spoke to Tilley about the money.
The Missouri Capitol News Association booted the Missouri Times from its membership in May 2018, with members saying the payments violated journalistic ethics.
Also Tuesday, Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake Saint Louis, called on the FBI to investigate the money’s origins.
“What we don’t know is the true source of the $120,000 and what the motives were behind it,” Hill said in a statement.
Watkins said previously the money went toward his client’s legal bills, not to his client.
“My client did not get a dime,” Watkins told the Post-Dispatch. “It went to pay attorneys fees.”