JEFFERSON CITY —Text messages obtained by The Star reveal a sexually charged relationship between House Speaker John Diehl and a college freshman in a Missouri Capitol internship program that shut down abruptly last month.
The conversations unveil a flirty rapport and suggest an intimacy between arguably the state’s most influential lawmaker and a young woman taking some pleasure in a secret association.
The texts show occasional efforts by Diehl and the intern to meet in person. They range from mundane chatter, about boring meetings and dreading speeches, to the more sexually suggestive.
Diehl initially declined to comment. But about six hours after the story was posted online Wednesday morning, he issued a statement admitting the relationship.
“I take full responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry to those I let down,” Diehl’s statement said. “I apologize for the poor judgment I displayed that put me and those closest to me in this situation. I also regret that the woman has been dragged into this situation. The buck stops here. I ask for forgiveness. I will begin immediately working to restore the trust of those closest to me, and getting back to the important work that is required in the final days of session.”
The intern, who has hired an attorney specializing in employment matters, had told The Star that the text messages were not real. Meantime, she has told confidants that she had an ongoing relationship with Diehl.
On Wednesday afternoon, her attorney issued a news release saying the woman “requests the media respect her privacy. She has provided all the information she intends to give on the matter, and will be issuing no further comment. (She) is not interested in being at the center of any political debate concerning her internship or the workings of the state Capitol.” The Star has chosen not to name her.
Multiple sources helped The Star confirm that the screenshots of the texts, which show Diehl’s business cellphone number, originated from the intern’s smartphone. The text conversations also included photographs of each of them. And others who know Diehl well said they recognized the language and tone of the conversations from their own text exchanges with him.
The discovery of the text messages between Diehl and the intern follows a decision by Missouri Southern State University to end its Capitol internship program more than a month prematurely.
Richard Miller, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Missouri Southern, told The Star that the school pulled its four interns out of the state Capitol this spring after an unspecified incident. Yet Miller, citing student privacy laws, declined to be more specific about what led the university to end the internships.
Missouri Southern has held a legislative internship program for the past 20 years, sending students to the United Nations in New York City and Washington, D.C.
“This is the first time we have pulled all the interns,” Miller said. “Usually, when something happens, it is a problem with the interns themselves, but that was not the situation this year.”
The school said no decision has been made about the university’s legislative intern program for the next school year.
The interns each lived in Jefferson City and worked 35 hours a week for various lawmakers. They have been reassigned to law offices and political action organizations in the state, Miller said.
Confronted with texts
The Star obtained the texted conversations after the internship program ended. Diehl was contacted April 24 about the exchanges and, through a staff member, asked to see the texts before he would comment. The Star shared the texts with Diehl within minutes of that request, and he declined to comment publicly.
A week later, on May 1, Diehl agreed through his staff to talk on the record with a reporter. However, he backed out of that arrangement and refused to speak for publication.
Another week later, last Friday, his staff offered to deliver records for both his personal cellphone and another cellphone paid for by his law firm, Husch Blackwell. Those records took several days to produce. They showed just six text messages sent from the intern to Diehl.
While they were presented as evidence that no significant text exchange with the intern occurred, they show only a log of conventional text messages.
Yet the texts obtained by The Star and presented last month to Diehl show conversations over Apple’s proprietary iMessage platform. Texts on iMessage wouldn’t show up on a cellphone record unless they were sent or received when no Wi-Fi or mobile Internet connection is available.
Neither Diehl nor his staff ever mentioned that he regularly uses iMessage to send texts until asked by The Star on Tuesday.
Screenshots of the text messages between Diehl and the intern are punctuated throughout with emoticons and emojis — cartoonish faces that smile or wink. They paint a picture of playful sexual innuendo.
Her: “You better take care of me.”
Diehl: “Like how?”
Her: “I’ll bet you’ll figure it out.”
Diehl: “I dunno. You have always been disappointed;)”
Her: “I just have high expectations, I guess. Thus far, you’ve done pretty well (an emoji blows a kiss)”
Diehl: “:). I kinda want to hear what you are expecting”
Then, shortly after, he types: “You will be in good hands :)”
At one point Diehl texts her “God I want you right now,” to which she replies “I wish you could have me right now.”
In another exchange, she sends a picture of herself in a bikini and Diehl responds: “Damn girl …”
Shortly after he writes: “I want to see more” followed by a smiling emoji.
Another exchange centered on Diehl texting that he was “Laying in bed looking at your pic :)”
She responded: “Mmmmm why can’t I be there :)”
Diehl shared photos as well, including one apparently taken while he was on a trade mission to Europe with Gov. Jay Nixon. The picture shows the speaker standing next to a luxury car in Munich, Germany.
“Munich is a cool place,” he says.
“That suit and tie combo is sexy and you look great,” she responds. “I see a lot of work is happening.”
Diehl lives with his wife and three sons in Town and Country, Mo.
The 49-year-old has developed a reputation as a hard-charging, deal-making politician whose rise in House leadership — and to arguably the second-most powerful job in the Statehouse — reflects rarely rivaled ambition.
Diehl, a Republican, grew up in Manchester in suburban St. Louis and received a political science degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a law degree from St. Louis University. He established his own law practice in the St. Louis area and specializes in real estate matters. He recently went to work for Husch Blackwell.
The firm’s website says: “John advises businesses, landowners and developers in a wide variety of areas, including land use processing, real property development and clean energy/clean tech projects. … In the last decade, John has worked on nearly $1 billion in development projects.”
The Star’s Mará Rose Williams contributed to this story.
To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to email@example.com.