At least five Republican lawmakers are calling for Gov. Eric Greitens to resign after allegations that he blackmailed a woman in an effort to keep her quiet about an extramarital affair.
Rep. Kathie Conway, a St. Charles Republican and former criminal investigator, encouraged the governor to step down in a piece published Tuesday by The Missouri Times.
“As a former criminal investigator for a prosecuting attorney, I have an idea of what could unfold in the coming weeks. There would be a long process that will be humiliating to everyone involved,” Conway said. “There would be no privacy that can be realistically offered when the governor of a state is under investigation. All the while, our state will continue to be embarrassed on the national stage.”
Greitens, a Republican, has admitted to the affair but has vehemently denied the allegations that in 2015 he took a nude photograph of a woman — while she was blindfolded and her hands were bound — and threatened to release it if she spoke about the affair.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
He now faces a criminal investigation in St. Louis.
Greitens posted a message to Facebook Tuesday evening, asserting his innocence without addressing the substance of the blackmail allegations.
“Much has now been written about this, and many of the assertions made have not been truthful and have proven extremely hurtful to Sheena, as well as to me,” the governor wrote. “For us, the allegations that go so far beyond the facts have made this much more difficult. I made a mistake, I regret it, and Sheena and I have dealt with it between us. For us, that is where this story starts, and that is where this story ends.”
Greitens did not directly reference the calls for his resignation, but he did affirm his commitment to the job.
“I assure you that this personal mistake will not deter us from the mission we were sent here to do,” he said. “... We will take our state in a new and better direction. There is still much work to be done, and we are back to work for the people of Missouri.”
The controversy resulting from the allegations, which were first reported by KMOV-TV in St. Louis after the woman’s ex-husband came forward, could torpedo the career of a man whom many national Republicans saw as potentially bound for the White House one day.
Albert Watkins, a St. Louis attorney representing the ex-husband, said in an email late Tuesday that he had provided copies of audiotapes of the woman discussing the governor’s behavior with St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner’s office and the FBI.
Democratic lawmakers called for the governor to resign within hours of the initial report. Conway was one of the first Republicans to do the same.
“If Missouri Republicans want to say we honestly support family values, we must be prepared to take a stand and not allow these acts to be supported by our party,” Conway wrote. “It is easy to say we stand for family values. It is much harder today when we actually have to possibly put thought actions behind those words.”
Greitens was supposed to be spending this week laying out the specifics of his tax cut proposal and traveling the state to sell the idea to Missourians. But the erupting scandal caused him to postpone those events.
He’s also yet to deliver to lawmakers his recommendations for the state budget. Traditionally, the governor’s budget proposal is laid out in the annual State of the State address. But Greitens broke with that tradition, and without his recommendations, the budget process remains stalled.
Shortly after Conway’s piece was published, another St. Louis area Republican, Rep. Marsha Haefner, also called for the governor to step down.
“When a man cheats on his wife, it’s a family matter,” Haefner said in a statement. “When the governor of Missouri cheats ... it becomes a state matter” when it includes “allegations of victimizing his mistress, blackmail (and) bribes.”
Haefner also cited reports that the governor’s state counsel, Lucinda Luetkemeyer, had called Watkins, the attorney representing the ex-husband, before it aired.
“I find no pleasure in saying this, but I believe Governor Greitens is no longer fit to hold Missouri’s highest office,” Haefner said.
State law forbids Greitens from using taxpayer dollars to defend himself against the blackmail claims, which allegedly took place two years before he became governor.
Watkins said Tuesday that he interpreted the call from Luetkemeyer as an attempt to “get ahead of a freight train” and “do damage control” for the governor.
Luetkemeyer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that at the time of the phone call she did not know whether the story pertained to the governor’s personal life or his official duties.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican and frequent critic of the governor, said Luetkemeyer’s actions give the appearance of taxpayer money being used in a coverup.
“You cannot escape the stench of coverup,” Schaaf said in a speech Tuesday evening on the Senate floor. “Governor, I’m asking you, please resign.”
Jim Bennett, the governor’s private attorney, said last week that no taxpayer dollars were being used to pay for the governor’s defense. He added Monday that A New Missouri, a nonprofit set up to promote Greitens’ agenda, also is not footing the bill.
“This is a personal matter and Eric Greitens is personally responsible for his expenses,” Bennett said in an email.
Also calling for Greitens’ resignation were Rep. Steve Cookson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, and Rep. Nate Walker, a Kirksville Republican.
Cookson, in a statement, called on the governor to step down “so that the work on the many issues he has expressed concern for can resume without these distractions.”
Walker, who noted that he was an early supporter of Greitens, said in a statement that it “has become clear after the very courageous statements by Reps. Conway and Haefner, this scandal will make it impossible to lead the state going forward.”
Some other Republican lawmakers said calls for Greitens’ resignation were premature.
“Until there is hard evidence of a crime, our focus should be on doing the people’s work,” Rep. Phil Christofanelli, a St. Charles Republican, said on Twitter.
Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Kansas City Republican, on Tuesday reiterated his statement from last week that the “actions attributed to Gov. Greitens in news reports are deeply troubling.”
He stopped short of calling for his resignation while the investigation by the St. Louis circuit attorney is in its early stages.
“I urge the governor to address the matter honestly with Missourians,” Corlew said. “The proper authorities should conduct a thorough investigation to determine the facts. If the allegations are true, the governor should be held accountable.”