Government & Politics

Missouri GOP attacks prosecutor, but Hawley, lawmakers support Greitens investigation

Five things to know about the Greitens scandal

A St. Louis grand jury on Feb. 22 indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony charge of invasion of privacy.
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A St. Louis grand jury on Feb. 22 indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony charge of invasion of privacy.

The Missouri Republican Party’s full-throated defense of Gov. Eric Greitens in the face of a felony indictment stood in stark contrast Friday to the growing chorus of GOP lawmakers calling for him to resign.

The state party attacked the credibility of the Democratic prosecutor overseeing the investigation of the Republican governor. GOP lawmakers, however, moved forward with plans to launch a legislative investigation in response to the indictment.

That investigation could be the first step toward impeachment of Greitens.

The party also appears at odds with its top recruit to take on U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in the fall, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who has voiced support for a legislative investigation into the allegations against the Republican governor.

“A felony indictment by a grand jury is a serious matter,” Hawley said on Twitter the morning after Greitens was indicted with a felony invasion of privacy charge in St. Louis.

“There is no place for party or partisanship,” Hawley said. “The criminal justice system must be allowed to work. I am confident the House’s investigation will be thorough and swift, and will proceed without regard to party.”

Greitens faces a grand jury indictment for felony invasion of privacy after an investigation by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner’s office into allegations that Greitens took a nude photograph of a woman without her consent in 2015 to keep her from talking about their extramarital affair.

More than a dozen Republican lawmakers have called for the governor to resign or at least consider the possibility.

Greitens has acknowledged the affair but has repeatedly denied that he did anything illegal. He has repeatedly refused to directly answer whether he took the photograph.

A motion to dismiss the indictment from Greitens’ attorneys does not dispute that he took a photograph, but rather argues that the invasion of privacy statute “applies to situations such as voyeurs or peeping toms who take photographs in locations such as restrooms, tanning beds, locker rooms, changing rooms, and bedrooms. The law does not apply to the participants in sexual activity.”

His attorneys argue that Greitens and the woman were engaged in consensual sexual activity and therefore the privacy law should not apply.

“This statute has never been used like this in Missouri history,” Greitens’ attorney, Edward Dowd, said in a statement. “In unprecedented fashion, the Circuit Attorney circumvented the local police force and hired her own investigators — we attempted to meet with the Circuit Attorney and make the Governor available to discuss the issues. They refused. She proceeded to file an indictment that has no facts.”

The allegations surfaced shortly after the governor delivered his annual State of the State address. Audio from The Associated Press.

Gardner’s office has defended the decision to use outside investigators and said the proposed meeting with the governor’s attorney was unnecessary because the governor did not plan to make any new statement. The office has shrugged off the criticism from the governor’s team and the Republican Party.

“The job of Circuit Attorney is to examine the evidence and determine if those facts meet the elements of the crime defined by law. That is exactly what Kim Gardner has done. The facts and the Grand Jury’s decision to indict, speak for themselves,” Susan Ryan, Gardner’s spokeswoman, said in an email.

“Both the Governor and the victim deserve their day in court.”

Republican legislative leaders have promised to conduct a formal legislative investigation. Dowd said in an additional statement that the governor’s legal team would be happy to work with the bipartisan legislative committee and share information if the court gives permission.

The governor, meanwhile, is facing an onslaught of calls for his resignation from fellow Republicans.

Rep. Kevin Engler, a Farmington Republican, confirmed that GOP lawmakers are circulating a letter asking the governor to step down. He said he has not seen the final version of the letter yet but agrees with the overall sentiment.

“The reality is this could go on for six months,” Engler said.

He said it would be difficult for lawmakers to accomplish much this session with “FBI agents in the hallways,” referring to the former federal agents that Gardner’s office hired to help conduct the investigation.

Engler said Greitens’ budget and tax proposals would get little consideration from lawmakers this year and questioned how he could effectively govern.

Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Kansas City Republican, made a similar point Thursday night on Facebook.

“I cannot see how he could effectively perform the duties of his office, let alone to lead with the kind of moral authority needed to make a positive impact,” Corlew said. “For the good of our state and the ideals we stand for, I believe that Governor Greitens should resign.” 

Engler noted that the governor already lacked allies in Jefferson City.

“When you’re constantly spending money berating your party’s own people, you don’t build a lot of friends,” Engler said.

Gov. Eric Greitens has admitted he had an extramarital affair in 2015.

Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, the man who would replaced Greitens if he stepped down, has not commented on the indictment. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Treasurer Eric Schmitt also were silent about the arrest of their fellow Republican.

Despite the growing frustration with the governor among Republican lawmakers, the Missouri Republican Party has tried to cast doubt on the credibility of the investigation and tie it to New York billionaire George Soros, a popular target of the political right.

“Kim Gardner has received more than $200,000 from George Soros groups,” Sam Cooper, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said in a statement Friday morning.

Cooper pointed to a 2016 article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about how Gardner’s campaign received large donations from super PACs with ties to Soros, who supports progressive causes, including a $73,000 donation from the Soros-backed Safety & Justice PAC in July.

“Missourians should see this for what it is, a political hit job,” Cooper said in the statement. “This law has never been prosecuted in this way and it is safe to say if Eric Greitens wasn’t governor, it wouldn’t have been this time either. We have a progressive anti-law enforcement Democrat wanting to single-handily oust a law-and-order governor.”

Gardner, a former Democratic lawmaker, has held her current office for a little more than a year.

“Ms. Gardner will not be playing political games during this process or litigate this case in the media. These personal attacks, while disappointing, will not distract her from her duty to serve justice and the citizens of this community,” her spokeswoman said of the attacks.

The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus defended Gardner, saying in a statement that to “call the indictment of Governor Greitens — which was issued by a grand jury — a political hit job without any evidence is the exact kind of rhetoric the Republican Party claims to decry.”

Rep. Alan Green, the St. Louis County Democrat who chairs the Black Caucus, said it was ludicrous to blame the charges on “St. Louis liberals.” He said the Republican Party “would rather make this about politics than ‘law and order.’ 

The state party’s decision to link the investigation to Soros, a popular target of the right, was foreshadowed by a Twitter exchange Wednesday between veteran GOP strategist Jeff Roe and Jane Dueker, who served as chief of staff for former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden.

“You never know when the Soros money will come your way,” Roe said to Dueker after she suggested Greitens would be brought down by the grand jury investigation.

The law firm representing Greitens this week hired a lobbyist who works for Roe’s firm.

Cooper, the party official who sent out the statement, also has ties to Roe. He previously worked for Roe’s Kansas City-based consulting firm Axiom Strategies and worked under him on U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s failed presidential campaign, which Roe managed.

Greitens has his own connections to Soros. Before he ran for governor he served on a veterans advisory board for the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York City-based charity focused on fighting poverty that has received millions from Soros.

The Republican Governors Association, a group that works to elect GOP governors nationally, announced Friday that Greitens will give up his position on the association’s steering committee and skip its winter conference to “fight back against what his team has called a baseless charge.”

The association said it looked forward to quick resolution of the issue.

The Star’s Jason Hancock and Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3