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Opinion: Trump, Greitens have impeachment similarities, contrasts

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There are some intriguing similarities, but also contrasts, between the current U.S. House of Representatives investigation of President Donald Trump and last year’s Missouri House investigation of Gov. Eric Greitens.

Both investigations began with committee hearings held behind closed doors.

Missouri’s House even adopted a rule that gagged committee members from talking about committee proceedings with others.

One reason for initially closing the hearings was that the woman subject to alleged misconduct by the governor sought anonymity. But another explanation echoed the arguments for closed congressional hearings – that an impeachment investigation is similar to grand jury proceedings held in secret to avoid subsequent witnesses adjusting testimony based on prior testimony.

In Missouri, the House committee ultimately held public hearings and released partially redacted transcripts of the earlier closed hearings. The U.S. House also plans public hearings.

Another similarity between Missouri and Congress involves avoiding the word “impeachment.”

Congressional Republicans regularly attacked the House leadership for using standing committees for the initial Trump investigation, rather than the House authorizing a formal impeachment process.

In Missouri, the House voted to authorize a special committee to “investigate allegations” against the governor. But House leaders rejected efforts to include the word impeachment as a possible committee recommendation.

Even when the Missouri legislature authorized a special session to continue the Greitens investigation, the petition used the phrase “disciplinary actions,” not “impeachment” as the purpose.

I was told that by avoiding the word “impeachment” in the nonimpeachment petition provided cover for some Republicans that maybe all they were endorsing in signing the petition was a potential reprimand, a kind of “the governor’s been naughty” resolution.

Another intriguing similarity involves soliciting foreign campaign support.

While that’s the core of the Trump investigation, the issue arose late in the Greitens investigation when a former campaign staffer testified Greitens discussed seeking foreign campaign contributions that would violate federal law.

The one huge difference between the two investigations involves the intense partisanship in the U.S. House.

Republican members of Congress regularly attacked the Democratic leadership. They even disrupted a planned committee session by storming the Capitol hearing room before the meeting.

In Missouri, there was no such partisan assault.

Although Missouri Democratic legislators disagreed with some aspects of the Republican leadership’s approach, it became a bipartisan collaborative investigation of the Republican governor’s behavior.

I hardly remember a harsh word uttered by a Democratic committee member against the Republican chair.

The ranking Democratic committee member, usually candid and blunt, obeyed the gag rule. She consistently turned aside my repeated efforts for information about committee issues, although clearly frustrated by the rule.

Of course, this bipartisan collaboration was facilitated by a Republican-controlled legislature investigating a Republican governor.

That’s similar to the 1994 impeachment of Democratic Secretary of State Judy Moriarty by a Democratic-controlled House.

Unlike the Trump and Greitens investigations, the word “impeachment” was not an issue.

Gov. Mel Carnahan called the legislature into a special session for the specific purpose of impeaching Moriarty – who, after House impeachment, was tossed out of office by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Moriarty had been convicted of having office staff back-date her son’s filing papers for the state legislature after the filing deadline. The conviction, which prompted the impeachment session, meant there was no need for secret committee testimony since there had been a public trial.

Unlike the U.S. president, whom the Justice Department has determined cannot be charged with a crime while in office, governors are not immune from prosecution. In fact, Greitens resigned in a deal to drop a criminal charge of stealing information from a nonprofit organization.

As for that first special session ever called by the legislature, it met only a few times.

Rules for the committee’s continued investigation were co-sponsored by the Republican committee chair and the ranking Democratic member – a sign of continued bipartisan collaboration so missing in Washington, D.C.

But with Greitens’ resignation, the special session adjourned after a joint session address by the new governor, Mike Parson.

Phill Brooks has been a statehouse reporter since 1970, making him the dean of the Missouri statehouse press corps. He is director of Missouri Digital News and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism.


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