Government & Politics

With scandals all around for indicted Greitens, path to political survival narrows

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.

Indicted by a grand jury and charged with felony invasion of privacy, Gov. Eric Greitens is now entering a political and legal minefield.

A grand jury investigation continues, and the scope of its inquiry appears wide open. Rumors that the FBI has taken notice are running rampant.

The Missouri House is beginning its own investigation — with the blessing of the GOP leaders in the Senate — which is the first step toward possible impeachment.

The litany of scandals that has plagued Greitens’ administration over the last year now looms over Missouri’s political landscape, opening the possibility that every allegation that’s been heaved at the governor over the last year could become fodder for investigators.

That notion has some questioning whether he can effectively carry out the duties of governor while fending off attacks on multiple fronts.

Greitens has remained defiant, pleading his innocence on social media and attacking St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner as a “reckless liberal prosecutor.”

But even some of his longtime legislative allies seem to be edging toward throwing in the towel, wondering how long Missouri government can withstand the weight of the growing scandal.

“It is not my position to determine the governor’s guilt or innocence,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican. “That is for a court to decide.

“However, the news of the indictment causes me to question whether the governor has the ability to effectively lead the state going forward. His actions have damaged the reputation of the office.”

Road to impeachment

House Speaker Todd Richardson, Majority Leader Rob Vescovo and Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr are working to put together a special bipartisan legislative committee that will investigate allegations that Greitens threatened to release a nude photograph of a woman with whom he was having an affair to keep her from talking about it.

It’s widely assumed the committee will be led by Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican and an attorney who has headed legislative inquiries in the past. The committee will have subpoena power, and if good cause is found, it could draft articles of impeachment to be reported to the House.

A constitutional majority in the House — 82 of the chamber’s 163 members — would be needed to impeach Greitens.

Barnes did not respond to a request for comment. Greitens’ attorney, Edward Dowd, said the governor’s legal team would work with the committee.

“We welcome reviewing this issue with the independent, bipartisan committee of the Missouri House of Representatives,” Dowd said in a statement.

If the House votes to impeach, the Senate would select a special commission of seven judges to try the case. If five of the seven judges agree that the governor is guilty, the governor would be removed from office and the lieutenant governor, Mike Parson, would take over and serve the rest of the term, which runs until January 2021.

The only statewide Missouri official to be convicted, impeached and ousted from office was Democratic Secretary of State Judy Moriarty in 1994. She was convicted of a misdemeanor for backdating her son’s candidacy paperwork for a state House seat, impeached by the House and removed by the state Supreme Court.

The only Missouri governor to resign from office was Trusten Polk in 1856. He stepped down when he was chosen by lawmakers to serve in the U.S. Senate.

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

Scandal-plagued

While the focus of the investigation is on Greitens’ 2015 affair and the blackmail allegations, there’s no shortage of other accusations swirling around the governor that could capture the attention of lawmakers, prosecutors or the grand jury.

Several lawmakers have publicly questioned whether Greitens used resources from his taxpayer-funded office to try to tamp down the story of his 2015 affair before it broke.

They point to revelations that the governor’s general counsel, Lucinda Luetkemeyer, called the attorney representing the ex-husband of the woman with whom Greitens had an affair hours before the story broke.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican and frequent critic of the governor, said last month that Luetkemeyer’s actions gave the appearance of taxpayer money being used in a coverup.

The governor is also under investigation by the attorney general’s office over his and his senior staff’s use of an app that deletes text messages after they’ve been read. The investigation is trying to determine if by using the app the governor was illegally destroying public records.

Two St. Louis attorneys also have sued Greitens over his use of the app, saying the governor’s office conspired to violate the state’s Sunshine Laws.

Greitens has long been dogged by accusations of corruption involving his political nonprofit, A New Missouri.

Founded by his political team, A New Missouri is not required to disclose its donors and is not bound by the state’s campaign contribution limits.

He also used a nonprofit to raise money for his inaugural, breaking with tradition by refusing to disclose how much corporations and lobbyists donated to bankroll the event.

The secrecy surrounding Greitens’ fundraising has translated into near constant questions about his motives. And when investigators from the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office traveled to Jefferson City to interview lawmakers last week, the topic of so-called dark money apparently came up.

Even before he took office, the governor’s fundraising created controversy.

The governor was fined by the Missouri Ethics Commission last year for failing to disclose he had used a donor list for his campaign that was acquired from a veteran’s charity Greitens founded.

But the governor and his political team have repeatedly refused to clarify how the campaign came into possession of the donor list. The charity has adamantly denied it would ever have given the donor list to Greitens or his campaign, because doing so could put its nonprofit status at risk.

If true, that would mean someone took the list from the charity without permission, a potential crime under Missouri law.

Rep. Kevin Engler, a Farmington Republican, told The Star he’s concerned the saga surrounding the governor could go on for months. That notion has inspired many of Greitens’ fellow Republicans to publicly plead with him to leave office voluntarily.

“A grand jury doesn’t hand down an indictment on a whim,” said Sen. Doug Libla, a Poplar Bluff Republican who has frequently clashed with Greitens. “The governor should seriously consider resigning, so we can remove the cloud and get back to the people’s work.”

The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this article.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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