JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s only been two days since the first official meeting of the House Special Investigative Committee, but questions about the procedures the committee will be using, particularly in the matter of whether the probe is conducted in an open-door fashion, continue being raised.
A flurry of comments have appeared on social media following the organization meeting on Tuesday, with news that the first hearing would be a closed session held at the Jefferson City Police Department on Wednesday.
Speaking before reporters the night before, Chairman Jay Barnes asked the media to respect the process as well as the witnesses’ rights to privacy. The following morning, various media outlets could be seen outside of JCPD, staking out the police department in preparation of the closed session hearing.
Though attorney Al Watkins did confirm that one of his clients met with the seven-member panel, he did not disclose any further details.
Now, the panel is scheduled to meet again on Friday to continue their work in determining whether the indictment and allegations against Republican Governor Eric Greitens are worthy grounds for impeachment. Still, many continue to debate the question of whether the closed-door hearings are truly transparent, and whether all should be open to the public.
On Thursday, when asked about the issue of privacy vs. transparency, House Speaker Todd Richardson defended the chosen process of the committee he tasked with the investigation, saying that he understood the need to conduct their business in an open fashion, but also encouraged everyone to be patient.
“I think there are good reasons why we gave the committee the availability to close meetings, and that’s to protect the confidentiality of witnesses and to make sure they get to a fair accounting of facts,” he said during the end of the week press availability.
He also noted that many other committees had work to do in the various hearing rooms, and said they did not want the work of the investigative committee to impede on the work of others, citing that as another reason for the off-campus location of the hearing on Wednesday.
When asked if he thought that the perceived lack of transparency would undermine the committee’s work and credibility, he replied that he wasn’t worried. Richardson declined to discuss the specifics of the committee, but said that the process was working as intended.
Richardson did say that there would be an open portion when it was time, and said that every meeting would be posted and held in accordance with the law.
“There will be open meetings, and at the end of this process, what the committee has uncovered will be able to be evaluated by the public,” Richardson said.
In the Senate, similar questions were raised to President Pro Tem Ron Richard, particularly regarding their role in selecting seven eminent jurists if House voted to impeach the Governor.
Richard simply responded that he would “deflect that until the time is right.”
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.