Confession to an affair, but denial of blackmail allegations
Gov. Eric Greitens was indicted Thursday afternoon by a St. Louis grand jury on a felony charge of invasion of privacy.
The charge stems from a 2015 affair and allegations that he threatened to release a nude photograph of the woman, taken while she was blindfolded and her hands were bound, if she ever spoke publicly about the affair.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner launched a criminal investigation of the allegations last month shortly after they become public. The indictment accuses Greitens of not only knowingly photographing the woman with whom he had an affair, but also transmitting the image “in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer.”
After news of the indictment broke, Greitens was seen being led down a hallway in the local courthouse by several St. Louis city deputies, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Gardner’s office confirmed that Greitens was arrested and arraigned Thursday in St. Louis. He was later released on his own recognizance.
“As I have stated before, it is essential for residents of the City of St. Louis and our state to have confidence in their leaders,” Gardner said in a statement. “They must know that the Office of the Circuit Attorney will hold public officials accountable in the same manner as any other resident of our city. Both parties and the people of St. Louis deserve a thorough investigation of these allegations.”
Greitens responded to the indictment on Facebook Thursday evening. He rejected the notion that he had done anything illegal and attacked the charges as politically motivated.
“As I have said before, I made a personal mistake before I was Governor. I did not commit a crime,” Greitens said.
“With today’s disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken. I know this will be righted soon,” he continued. “The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points.”
He promised to fight the indictment in court and gave no indication that he plans to step down.
His attorney, Edward L. Dowd Jr., denounced the charge.
“In forty years of public and private practice, I have never seen anything like this,” Dowd said. “The charges against my client are baseless and unfounded. My client is absolutely innocent. We will be filing a motion to dismiss.”
Adding to the governor’s headaches is an announcement by House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, that lawmakers will be conducting an investigation of their own, a move that could be the first step towards impeachment proceedings.
“We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward,” Richardson said in a statement signed by the House speaker pro tem and House majority leader. “The people of Missouri deserve no less. We will begin the process of tasking a group of legislators to investigate these serious charges.”
Greitens was to attend a meeting of the National Governors Association this weekend in Washington. About 6 p.m. Thursday evening, a spokeswoman said the organization still expected him to be there.
Fourteen minutes later, she sent an email saying the association had just heard that Greitens would not be attending after all. She did not respond to a request for comment on the indictment.
The allegations against Greitens surfaced shortly after he delivered his annual State of the State address last month. The ex-husband of the woman with whom Greitens had an affair gave St. Louis TV station KMOV an audio recording of her confessing the affair and accusing Greitens of threatening to blackmail her.
The woman involved in the matter has not made a comment and has repeatedly declined to participate in any news articles. The confession was recorded without her knowledge by her ex-husband and released to the media without her consent.
Greitens hired the St. Louis law firm Dowd Bennett to represent him in the circuit attorney’s criminal inquiry. In the last week, a former St. Louis circuit judge was added to his legal team, and Dowd Bennett hired a statehouse lobbyist who is employed by longtime GOP consultant Jeff Roe’s firm.
Last week, two investigators from the circuit attorney’s office were dispatched to the Capitol to interview lawmakers. Before they left town they had talked to roughly two dozen legislators, including House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican.
The investigators, both of whom have FBI experience, were back in Jefferson City this week interviewing more lawmakers.
According to lawmakers who were interviewed, the questions focused on the conversations and interactions legislators had with the governor about the affair and alleged blackmail before and after the story went public.
Gardner’s office said in a statement Thursday evening that it is not unusual for the circuit attorney to conduct an independent investigation in this manner. The statement also said that Greitens’ attorneys had sought to arrange a private meeting next week.
“The Circuit Attorney asked if the Governor would be making a statement that is any different from his public statements. His lawyers said they wanted to share the ‘human’ side of his story,” said Susan Ryan, Gardner’s spokeswoman. “The Circuit Attorney makes charging decisions based upon facts and evidence. Without additional facts and information from the Governor, the meeting was not necessary.”
Greitens’ attorney did not immediately respond to an email about whether such a meeting was proposed.
The allegations facing Greitens have hung over the Capitol for weeks.
A handful of Republican lawmakers quickly called on Greitens to resign. And earlier this week, while debating a bill that would outlaw “revenge porn,” Republicans overwhelming supported amending the bill to make it a felony to threaten someone with releasing a sexually explicit photo.
Greitens has bucked calls for his resignation, but the indictment has lead some lawmakers to renew calls for impeachment that would force the governor out of office.
It’s an incredible fall from grace for a governor who just a few months ago was widely seen as a rising star in Republican politics with aspirations for the White House.
He had never before sought public office when he announced he was running for governor in 2015. A former Democrat and Navy SEAL, Greitens ran as a conservative, and emphasized a message that state government was teeming with “corrupt career politicians,” “well-paid lobbyists” and “special interest insiders.”
He was elected in 2016, surviving a brutal four-way GOP primary and riding a Republican electoral wave to defeat Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.
Talk of his presidential aspirations began almost immediately, with numerous out-of-state political trips, including one in October to Iowa.
But his penchant for secrecy, and his reliance on anonymous donors to his political nonprofit, eroded much of the ethics reformer image he’d built during the campaign.
And his rocky relationship with lawmakers, especially those in his party, provided him with few political allies when news of the affair and blackmail allegations broke.
Now, defiantly refusing to resign, Greitens faces an indictment and a legislature seemingly ready to pounce on his downfall.
“The whole situation is very sad,” said Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat. “It’s sad for Missourians. It’s sad for the family. It’s sad for the victim. It’s just sad. There’s nothing joyous in any of this.”