Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens released a statement Tuesday night assuring the public that he would not resign, under the full belief that “the facts will prove my innocence.”
The Republican governor has been warding off calls to resign from prominent members of his own party for months, as he heads toward a criminal trial in May over invasion of privacy charges. But on Tuesday, he took another blow when the state’s attorney general announced he was considering a felony prosecution over an entirely separate matter. What’s happening with Missouri’s governor?
The Blackmail-Related Charges
Greitens, a 44-year-old former Navy SEAL and Rhodes scholar with a Ph.D. from Oxford University who once ran an ad just showing him firing a machine gun, was elected in 2016 in his first run for public office. His first term was disrupted by an explosive scandal in January, when St. Louis station KMOV reported the allegations of a 2015 affair between Greitens and his former hairdresser while he was preparing his run for governor. The source for the story was the woman’s husband at the time of the affair who recounted that his then-wife confessed to the affair and told him that Greitens took partially nude photos of her without her consent. According to the husband, who gave to the media an audio tape of the woman talking about the affair, Greitens told her that if she were to ever go public with the story of their affair, he would respond by making the photos public.
Afterward, Talking Points Memo reported that the ex-husband also said Greitens slapped the woman after she told him she had sex with her husband. Greitens immediately admitted to the affair but denied the allegations of violence and blackmail. He started facing calls to resign, but he resisted.
In February, Greitens was indicted by a grand jury on charges of felony invasion of privacy. According to the indictment, Greitens transmitted the photo he took of the woman in a way that made it possible to be viewed on a computer, bumping up the charge from a misdemeanor privacy charge to a felony. Greitens said the charges were a matter of a liberal prosecutor aiming to score a political victory. “With today’s disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken,” he wrote on Facebook at the time. The trial is set for May 14 in St. Louis. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.
The House Investigation
Shortly after the criminal indictment, a Missouri House special investigation began to look into the charges. In a graphic report released April 11 and signed by the five Republicans and two Democrats on the committee, the woman’s testimony, made under oath, was described as credible. The woman testified that Greitens had a been a customer at her salon in 2013 when they met. During a 2015 appointment, he grabbed her crotch, she said. When his wife was away, he invited the woman to his home, where he became aggressive.
According to the testimony, Greitens taped the woman’s hands to pull-up rings and blindfolded her. He began kissing her, and then he ripped open her shirt and pulled down her pants. She then heard a click, “like a cell phone,” and saw through the blindfold a flash. “Don’t even mention my name to anybody at all, because if you do, I’m going to take these pictures, and I’m going to put them everywhere I can,” he told her, according to her testimony. “They are going to be everywhere, and then everyone will know what a little whore you are.”
She “started freaking out,” she said, and told Greitens, “I’m not ready for this, I don’t want this.” He unbound her and tried to reassure her, and she started “uncontrollably crying.” She testified that he then unbuttoned his pants and placed his penis near her face while she was still crying, and she gave him oral sex. When the committee asked her if she had consented to the oral sex, she said, “Coerced, maybe. I felt as though that would allow me to leave.”
She said she had other sexual encounters with Greitens that turned violent. In June 2015, she said, he slapped her in the face when she said she’d slept with her husband. Another time, “out of nowhere,” he “smacked me and grabbed me and shoved me down on the ground,” she testified.
The Missouri House speaker announced the committee was expanding and would make recommendations after the end of the legislative season on May 18 as to whether the legislators should pursue impeachment. Josh Hawley, the state’s attorney general and a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, called for Greitens to resign. “This is a political witch hunt,” Greitens told reporters.
The Other Possible Felony Charge
Greitens was simultaneously being investigated for fishy campaign tactics. In October 2016, the AP reported that Greitens’ campaign obtained a list of top donors to the St. Louis-based veterans charity The Mission Continues, which Greitens founded in 2007 after coming home from the Iraq war. According to that AP investigation, Greitens’ campaign was able to raise $2 million from the donors whose names were obtained from that list. Greitens denied the allegations, but in April 2017, he paid a small fine to the Missouri Ethics Commission for not reporting that his campaign received the charity’s donor list. The campaign later filed a report labeling the list as a contribution, valued at $600, from Greitens’ campaign manager at the time.
After the AP report, Hawley’s office began an investigation into the allegations. On Tuesday, Hawley said his investigation had found that Greitens took the donor list without the consent of the charity to use for fundraising and concluded that Greitens might have committed a felony. He said that his office did not have the jurisdiction to file charges against the governor and referred the case to the St. Louis circuit attorney. Hawley also referred the case to the House investigatory committee already weighing impeachment. Greitens attacked Hawley as being bad at “the law” and for working with the circuit attorney, who is a Democrat. “Anyone who has set foot in a Missouri courtroom knows these allegations are ridiculous,” he said.
Calls to Resign
On Tuesday, after Hawley’s announcement, several prominent Missouri politicians, including Republicans, loudly called for Greitens to step down. Sen. Ron Richard said in a statement that the allegations had reached a “critical turning point” and that “after speaking with the attorney general today, I believe the governor has no other respectable option than to resign from office.” In a joint statement with House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr and House Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo, House Speaker Todd Richardson also released a statement saying that, “when leaders lose the ability to effectively lead our state, the right thing to do is step aside.”
If he does not resign soon, Sen. Richard said, the House should begin impeachment proceedings immediately. Before Tuesday, Republican leaders in the state legislature had been saying that they would wait for the May 18 end of the legislative season.
Greitens, though, has said he will remain in office. “In three weeks, this matter will go to a court of law, where it belongs and where the facts will prove my innocence,” he said. “Until then, I will do what the people of Missouri sent me here to do: to serve them and work hard on their behalf.”