A Missouri House committee is undertaking a solemn and consequential duty as it launches an investigation into the felony charge of invasion of privacy against Gov. Eric Greitens.
The seven-member panel, which was formed Monday, will lead an unprecedented review of a sitting Missouri governor that could serve as a prelude to impeachment.
The House has tapped one of its most capable members, four-term Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican, to lead the investigation. He’s the right guy to be leading this politically perilous investigation that will be under an intense spotlight from its first moment in operation.
So far, he and other panel members, including two Democrats and one member from the Kansas City area, Republican Rep. Jeanie Lauer, are saying the right things.
A St. Louis grand jury indicted the governor last week on a felony charge stemming from Greitens’ 2015 extra-marital affair and allegations that he took a nude photograph of the woman, who was blindfolded and had her hands bound, and threatened to release the picture if she revealed their relationship. The woman involved has not spoken publicly but presumably testified before the grand jury.
“This committee’s task is going to be to investigate the facts. We’re going to do so in a way that is fair, thorough and timely,” Barnes said. “And we’re going to do it without any preordained results.”
That’s exactly the right approach. Earlier suggestions that the committee examine more nebulous and difficult-to-answer questions, such as whether Greitens can still effectively lead the state, should remain off the table. Pursuing more subjective queries would open the panel up to intense criticism and would undermine its credibility.
The focus must be singular: Did the governor commit a felony?
Let’s be clear. If Greitens tied the woman up during a sexual encounter, photographed her without her consent and transmitted that image to a computer, he committed a serious crime, and his time as Missouri’s chief executive must end.
The governor, like all defendants, should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. But Greitens also should consider temporarily stepping aside, as permitted under the state constitution, while the twin investigations play out.
The governor’s combative and utterly predictable response has been to blame all this on politics. A lesson in contrition might serve him well as he stares down the end of a once promising political career at age 43.
With so much at stake, Barnes should ensure that his committee’s work is as open and transparent as possible. In a hurried Monday news conference, House leaders left the room before that question could be addressed. Transparency is essential in what will be a highly scrutinized probe, and the committee needs to show its work. But at least one member already has indicated that testimony will be closed to the public. That would be an enormous mistake.
The House panel is meeting while the criminal case against Greitens proceeds in St. Louis. The committee’s challenge will be to ignore the political noise surrounding this case and determine whether the governor broke the law.
If the answer is yes, impeachment should be the next step.