ST. LOUIS — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' attorneys have suggested a "political operative" was behind the release to the media of a recorded conversation between a woman and her then-husband in which she graphically describes her affair with the future governor. Now the defense believes a new revelation in the criminal case that spun out of that affair offers fuel for the contention.
In a court session Monday in the Republican governor's felony invasion of privacy case, Greitens' attorney Jim Martin said political newspaper publisher, talk show host and well-connected conservative Scott Faughn was the person who delivered the first of two $50,000 payments in January to Al Watkins, the suburban St. Louis attorney for the ex-husband of the woman involved in the affair. Faughn is a longtime critic of Greitens, who won election as a political outsider in 2016, and Faughn has faced his own legal troubles.
The ex-husband is a pivotal player because it was his secretly recorded conversation in which the woman with whom Greitens had an affair said Greitens blindfolded her and took a compromising photo of her without her permission in March 2015, before he was elected. That allegation led a grand jury to indict Greitens in February. He goes to trial May 14.
Watkins disclosed Faughn's name during a deposition, Martin said in court. Watkins declined comment. It remains unclear whether the $50,000 belonged to Faughn or someone else.
That payment and a second mysterious $50,000 that Watkins has said was delivered by courier and was used to cover the ex-husband's legal expenses are among the many issues Greitens' attorneys have seized upon. They've also accused the chief investigator of lying in court and questioned the honesty of the woman, whose name authorities have not released. The governor has called the allegations a "political witch hunt."
Several lawmakers called for Greitens to resign based on the criminal case as well as the woman's testimony to a special House committee in which she said Greitens had restrained, spanked, slapped, shoved, threatened and belittled her during a series of sexual encounters that at times left her crying and afraid. He also is accused of wrongly using a donor list from a veterans charity he founded to raise money for his political campaign.
Martin told Circuit Judge Rex Burlison that Faughn is connected to a group angry about losing tax credits. He didn't elaborate, but in November, Greitens and other members of the Missouri Housing Development Commission voted against giving out $140 million in state low-income housing tax credits to subsidize places to live in poor areas of the state.
Faughn is owner of the Missouri Times, a newspaper he co-founded in 2013 that focuses on state government. He also operates "This Week in Missouri Politics," which airs in several Missouri television markets.
Faughn did not respond to interview requests. In an online video Monday, he didn't directly address the $50,000 payment. He said he retained Watkins in connection with research for a book about the 2016 election. Faughn said he had obtained the ex-husband's audio before the affair became public and planned to use it as source material for the book. He said he never had a conversation with the ex-husband and never provided the audio to anyone else.
Watkins has said he received the two payments shortly before the affair became public on Jan. 10, when KMOV-TV in St. Louis aired the recording.
Faughn, 38, has been involved in politics since a young age. He became mayor of Poplar Bluff, a southeast Missouri town of about 17,000, at the age of 22 in 2002. He then led the Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce and was a catalyst behind a successful effort to widen a local highway.
But he was convicted in 2007 of three felony counts for forging checks from an account related to that effort and was fined $1,500.
Republican state Rep. Kathie Conway, a friend of Faughn, said he never spoke to her about any payment to Watkins' firm.
"Jefferson City is a small town, it really is," Conway said. "You almost find everybody connected to somebody else in some way, shape or form. But is this politically motivated? I don't know."
Democratic House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City said the real question is who is funding Greitens' legal defense. Supporters of the governor in March established a nonprofit to cover his legal expenses. McCann declined to speculate on how Faughn's payment could impact the criminal case, but said the legislative investigation is unaffected.
"I think it's meant to be a distraction, but as far as our House investigation goes, we will continue to take testimony and move forward," McCann Beatty said. "We have an obligation to do that."