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The path to impeachment: Could Speaker’s committee seek ouster of Gov. Greitens?


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri House of Representatives will officially begin investigating the charges against Gov. Eric Greitens, but what exactly are the rules that apply in this situation?

Following the indictment of Greitens by a grand jury for a felony charge of invasion of privacy, Republican House leaders said they would begin the process of “tasking a group of legislators to investigate these serious charges.”

“We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward,” a joint statement from House Speaker Todd Richardson, Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr, and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo read. “The people of Missouri deserve no less.”

Currently, some members of the legislature are circulating a letter, a petition calling on Greitens to step down. But the options left to the legislature, and the Governor, it seems, are very limited at this point.

The House is expected to form that investigative committee upon returning to the chamber next week, which could mark the first step toward impeachment of the Republican governor.

The first step that must take place for an investigation to begin is that a resolution must be filed in the Missouri House.

Rule 64 of the Missouri House, Section 3 states that “Any resolution offered to request an investigation of a state official for the purposes of impeachment shall be referred to any committee designated by the Speaker. Articles of impeachment shall only be introduced by the committee designated to investigate the matter and shall be read by title on three separate days.”

But the question that will need to be answered is whether the Speaker intends to create a committee to investigate the Governor, or whether he would assign it to an already standing committee.

The implied language of the Speaker’s statement indicates that if such a resolution were to be filed, it would be given to the “group of legislators” referenced. Two Republican legislators, in particular, could very well be chosen to sit on the committee that Speaker Richardson is expected to name: Rep. Jay Barnes and Rep. Robert Cornejo.

Rep. Gina Mitten says that while working with the investigation, the committee tasked with the investigation would be subject to Rule 64, as well as statutory rules of law.

“Basically, under House rules, a resolution is filed, the resolution is referred, the investigation occurs, and if any articles of impeachment are to be filed, it has to come from the committee that does the investigation,” she said. “So, it’s not like a special committee can be created to investigate, and then the Judiciary committee decides to issue articles of impeachment.”

Article VII of the Missouri Constitution states that “All elective executive officials of the state, and judges of the supreme court, courts of appeals and circuit courts shall be liable to impeachment for crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office.”

If the articles are then filed, then they would be voted upon by the House, and if they pass, then they would be sent to the Senate, who would be tasked with picking seven “eminent jurists” to hold the impeachment trial. Normally, once impeachment articles are approved, the case would be tried before the Missouri Supreme Court, but if that person is the Governor or a member of the Supreme Court, then the seven eminent jurists are tasked with handling the case.

Section 2 of Article VII states that “the supreme court or special commission shall take an oath to try impartially the person impeached, and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of five-sevenths of the court or special commission.”

The last time a case of impeachment took place in the Show-Me State was in 2014, when a Missouri House committee held hearings into three proposed articles of impeachment against former Gov. Jay Nixon for three separate complaints, including an executive order directing officials to accept joint tax returns from same-sex couples who had been married in other states, a lack of speed in calling special elections, and “insufficiently” punishing Missouri Department of Public Safety officials for releasing a database of Missourians with permits to carry concealed weapons. That case was dropped by the House when the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said that the “willful misconduct” by Gov. Nixon was insufficient to “warrant forwarding the impeachment resolutions to the full House of Representatives” for their consideration.

Prior to the impeachment proceedings of Nixon, the last – and only – time that an elected statewide official was impeached and removed from office was in 1994 when Secretary of State Judith Moriarty was accused of back-dating her son’s filing for an election. In all, there have been 10 impeachment cases in the Show-Me State dating back as far as 1825.