By Suzannah Gonzales
(Reuters) - Missouri's attorney general said on Tuesday his office has uncovered evidence of criminal electronic theft by Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, a fellow Republican already charged with invasion of privacy stemming from an unrelated sex scandal.
Attorney General Josh Hawley, also a candidate for the U.S. Senate, told reporters his office uncovered the alleged theft during a broader investigation of a charity for combat veterans founded in 2007 by Greitens, a former Navy SEAL commando.
Hawley said the evidence is enough to establish probable cause, the necessary legal standard to charge Greitens with felony computer tampering to obtain and transmit the charity's donor list without its permission for "his own political fund-raising purposes."
Hawley declined to say how much money Greitens is suspected of generating for his own benefit from the alleged theft of the donor list, except to say that it exceeded the statutory threshold of $500 for a felony. He also said donors to the charity, called The Mission Continues, were known to contribute sums of $1,000 or more.
The attorney general noted, however, that his office lacks jurisdiction to bring such a case, requiring him to refer the matter instead to the local prosecutor where the alleged misconduct took place, in this instance St. Louis.
Hawley said he did so on Monday, turning over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and sworn testimony of "key witnesses" to Kimberly Gardner, circuit attorney for the city of St. Louis.
Greitens, already under mounting pressure from numerous Missouri politicians, including Hawley, to resign over accusations of wrongdoing in connection with an admitted extramarital affair, called the latest allegations "ridiculous."
"We will dispense with these false allegations," he said in an emailed statement. A lawyer for the governor, Jim Martin, said a "thorough review of this matter" revealed "there's nothing close to wrongdoing."
Circuit attorney spokeswoman Susan Ryan confirmed prosecutors in Gardner's office and Hawley's team met on Monday to review the evidence turned over in the Mission Continues case. But Ryan declined to say when prosecutors would make a decision on whether to charge Greitens.
Hawley told reporters that time was of the essence because prosecutors faced an "approaching" but unspecified statute of limitations deadline.
Gardner is the same prosecutor who brought a criminal indictment against the governor in February charging him with felony invasion of privacy in connection with a 2015 extramarital affair that Greitens, then running for office, has acknowledged.
That case, scheduled for trial next month, charges Greitens took a photo of the woman in a state of undress without her consent, then made it accessible by computer to use as retaliation should she divulge their relationship.
Greitens, 44, a married father of two, has insisted his months-long relationship with the woman, a hair stylist identified in court documents only as "K.S.," was entirely consensual. He has denied engaging in blackmail or any other criminal wrongdoing.
Greitens has cast himself as the victim of a "political witch-hunt" and Gardner as a "liberal prosecutor" out to get him. His attorneys have filed for dismissal, accusing Gardner of prosecutorial misconduct. A judge is expected to rule on that motion on Thursday.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Grebler)