Five things to know about the Greitens scandal
The series of slow-burning scandals that have besieged Gov. Eric Greitens over the past three months could soon transform into an inferno that engulfs his administration.
A Missouri House committee that’s been investigating allegations of wrongdoing by the governor for more than a month will release its findings this week.
The governor was indicted by a St. Louis grand jury in February on one felony count of invasion of privacy stemming from allegations that he took a nude photo of a woman with whom he was having an affair in 2015 and threatened to release it if she ever spoke publicly about the relationship. He goes to trial next month.
The House report, and the accompanying transcripts of its numerous secret hearings, will be the first time the public will hear from the woman at the heart of the allegations speaking under oath.
Statehouse denizens are bracing for a bombshell that could upend the final weeks of the 2018 legislative session and ignite renewed calls for Greitens to resign or face impeachment.
“People are nervous about what’s in the report,” House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said Thursday, “and anxious to see what’s in there.”
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, echoed that sentiment, saying, “I'm sure there's a lot of angst waiting for that report. We'll see what happens."
Greitens and his team are not taking the release of the report lightly and have been working feverishly to delay it.
His attorneys have implored the committee to postpone releasing its findings until after Greitens’ May criminal trial, arguing that the report could taint the potential jury pool and impair the governor’s chances of getting a fair trial.
Behind the scenes, those close to the governor have been working to rally opposition to the report’s release.
The governor’s office has hired a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who specializes in representing governors facing impeachment.
And Greitens’ campaign has spent $50,000 on radio ads implying the governor's fight to stay in office is a battle against Satan.
But House leadership and the seven-member Special Investigative Committee on Oversight — five Republicans and two Democrats — have shrugged off the concerns.
“When the committee finalizes its report, we will release it to the public,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.
Invasion of privacy
At the heart of the committee’s investigation is the grand jury’s indictment.
Greitens has admitted that he cheated on his wife in 2015. But he denies any accusations of blackmail or physical violence against the woman with whom he had the affair.
The allegations first emerged publicly when the ex-husband of the woman with whom Greitens had the affair gave a St. Louis TV station a secret recording he made of her confessing the affair to him before they divorced in 2016.
In the audio recording, she says the governor fastened her hands to a piece of exercise equipment in the basement of his former home in St. Louis, blindfolded her and took a nude photo in order to blackmail her into silence.
The allegations were recorded without the woman’s knowledge and released to the media without her consent. She has steadfastly refused to speak publicly about her relationship with Greitens.
But she and her ex-husband were interviewed under oath by the House committee.
While the invasion of privacy charge has been the committee’s main focus, it has also expanded its inquiry to include allegations that the governor improperly used the resources of a veterans charity to benefit his 2016 gubernatorial campaign.
The committee last month subpoenaed documents from The Mission Continues, a charity Greitens founded in 2007. Greitens is alleged to have taken The Mission Continues’ list of donors without permission to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign.
Greitens has remained defiant, vowing to fight to keep his office despite a steady drip of details that continue to stoke the mounting scandals.
The committee hoped to interview Greitens as well, but his attorneys refused to make him available until after the May criminal trial is complete. In a letter to the committee, the governor’s attorneys said that if the House releases its findings before speaking to the governor, it will be a “rushed, incomplete, inaccurate report.”
“Anything published by this committee will no doubt influence the jury pool and the public about this case," the letter says, "and thus it is vital that the committee’s work reflect the full facts."
The woman’s testimony to the committee will no doubt play a key role in its findings, and the governor’s attorneys have begun trying to chip away at her credibility.
Greitens’ attorneys filed a legal brief last week in St. Louis that calls into question whether she has been honest about her relationship with the governor.
The 2015 affair, Greitens’ attorney argue in a legal brief filed last week in St. Louis court, was “100 percent consensual.” The woman never intended for her relationship with the governor to be made public, the governor’s attorneys contend, and she has been re-victimized by her ex-husband and local prosecutors by “having a matter she rightly viewed as personal and private turned into a media and political circus."
“Under such circumstances,” the filing continues, “it is understandable that she would be telling a story which minimizes her own role. If an individual wanted to minimize their own culpability for infidelity, that would be expected.”
In a second filing with the St. Louis court, the governor's defense team seeks to question Roy Temple, a Democratic operative, about whether he paid the woman, her ex-husband and the ex-husband's attorney in order to get them to share their story publicly. All vehemently deny the accusation.
Greitens' attorneys questioned the woman for eight hours on Friday.
The House committee’s report will not include any suggestions about next steps.
Ultimately, the question of whether Greitens should face impeachment will be largely left in the hands of Missouri House leadership and the committee. The one likely to have the biggest role in the decision is Richardson.
Richardson was elected speaker in 2015, following the resignation of former House Speaker John Diehl over his inappropriate relationship with a 19-year-old House intern.
Richardson vowed when he got the job to enact policy changes aimed at improving the culture of Missouri’s Capitol, and during his tenure, he’s helped enact new sexual harassment policies and internship guidelines as well as pushed for legislation aimed at curtailing lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
When the allegations against the governor became public, Richardson called them “deeply concerning.” After the grand jury handed down its indictment, he announced the formation of the investigative committee to look into the charges.
Richardson was supposed to speak to the media at his regularly scheduled press conference last Thursday, but he canceled at the last minute.
If lawmakers do decide to begin the process of removing Greitens from office, articles of impeachment must be filed and would proceed through the House in the same manner as any other bill.
A public hearing would be held, and eventually it would be debated and voted on by the full House. A constitutional majority of 82 out of 163 House members is all that is needed to impeach.
There are currently 115 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the House.
If the House votes to impeach, the matter would move to the Senate, which would select a special commission of seven judges to try the case.
At the completion of the trial, if five of those judges concur that the governor is guilty, he would be removed from office. The lieutenant governor, Republican Mike Parson, would become governor for the remainder of the term, which runs until January 2021.
“We put our faith in that committee,” said state Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville. “At this point, I think most people are just nervous about what is going to be in that report. I just want the facts to come out.”