Missouri Governor Eric Greitens was indicted Thursday on charges relating to allegedly blackmailing a former mistress with a nude photo he took without her consent. But when it comes to his own private information, Greitens is accused of deleting anything that could fall into investigators’ hands.
Greitens, who was indicted on a felony invasion of privacy charge for allegedly taking the nude photo, is also under investigation for his use of the messaging app Confide. Beloved by White House officials, Confide automatically deletes messages and attempts to prevent screenshots. Despite state laws barring Missouri officials from destroying records of their communications, Greitens and his staffers were caught using the app in the weeks before news of the affair went public.
In December, the Kansas City Star reported that Greitens and his senior staff used Confide to send messages. But despite Confide’s privacy-minded sales pitch, researchers have raised doubts about the app’s security. In early 2017, security research firm IOActive notified Confide of a number of flaws that would made the app vulnerable to hackers. Confide said it fixed the weak spots. But members of Trump’s inner circle had reportedly been using the app for months before the repairs.
Transparency advocates also raised the alarm when White House officials were revealed to be using Confide. Because the app automatically deletes messages, it destroys records that journalists or investigators might otherwise be able to access through Freedom of Information Act requests. The automatic deletions aren’t just shady, an ethics group charged in a June lawsuit against the Trump administration—they might break laws that require government officials to archive their communications.
Missouri activists raised similar complaints.
“The use of automatic communication destroying software by elected officials and government employees is illegal and constitutes an ongoing conspiracy to violate the Missouri Sunshine law and Missouri State and Local Records law, not to mention a significant affront to the open government and democratic traditions of Missouri and the United States,” a December lawsuit against Greitens and his use of the Confide app reads.
Greitens initially dismissed the report as a media plot against him.
“This is another nothing story that’s come from a liberal media outlet that is just desperate for salacious headlines,” Greitens told constituents in December. “The fact is, we know that sometimes media outlets like The Kansas City Star will be desperate to attack us at every turn, and one of the reasons why they are is that we’re here fighting for the people of Missouri.”
But Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley was not convinced. Late that month, he announced an investigation into whether Greitens and his staffers had broken the law by using Confide to delete communications.
Three weeks after Hawley announced the Confide investigation, Greitens was facing more serious allegations. Following a months-long investigation, St. Louis’s News 4 reported that Greitens had had an extramarital affair with his former hairdresser, and that he had allegedly taken a nude photo of her after blindfolding her and taping her to exercise equipment.
The woman’s ex-husband provided News 4 with an audio recording of the woman describing the incident.
"I didn't even know. I feel like I don't even know. I was just numb. I just stood there and didn't [expletive] know,” she said in the recording. She claimed Greitens took the picture to keep her silent about the affair. “He stepped back, I saw a flash through the blindfold and he said: ‘you're never going to mention my name, otherwise there will be pictures of me everywhere.’”
Greitens later admitted to the affair, but said it was consensual.
Days after the news broke, CNN reported that the FBI had been investigating the incident since at least November, when the agency reportedly grilled a former Greitens staffer for an hour. Facing scandal over the affair and his use of Confide, Greiten’s office issued a new policy partially banning the app.
“No staff member may use any self-destructing messaging application to conduct public business, whether it be on a state-issued or personal device,” the policy, obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in January read.
Some Greitens staffers deleted their Confide accounts. But as the alleged blackmailing scandal stretched into its second month, Greitens’ account remained active. On Wednesday, the Springfield News-Leader reported that Greitens’ account, where he goes by “Er Robert,” was still live and connected to Greiten’s phone number.
On Thursday, a grand jury handed down an indictment in the nude photo scandal.
Greitens “knowingly photographed [the woman] in a state of full or partial nudity without [her] knowledge and consent [...] and in a place where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and [Greitens] subsequently transmitted the image contained in the photograph in a manner that allowed access to that image by a computer," the indictment reads.
The governor who allegedly taped a woman to exercise equipment was reportedly led away in handcuffs. But if prosecutors want to search his phone for incriminating evidence in the invasion of privacy case, they won’t find anything on Confide. Unlike the nude photograph, which Greitens allegedly kept as leverage over his former mistress, all messages on Confide would have vanished shortly after he sent them
Greitens’ office did not return The Daily Beast’s Friday inquiry as to whether the governor was still using the account.
During a Tuesday press conference, Hawley said his office hoped to announce their findings “very soon.”