Leaders in Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ own party plan to call for a special session to weigh whether to impeach the governor following a bombshell report detailing allegations of sexual coercion and blackmail that has both Republicans and Democrats calling for his resignation.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, held a press conference Wednesday on the heels of a report detailing allegations he called "beyond disturbing" that were made by the woman at the center of the scandal.
He said a special House committee investigating allegations against Greitens would need to continue its work beyond the May 18 end of the legislative session.
After that, lawmakers could come back to act on any possible recommendations the committee might make, including impeachment. The committee is also expected to issue a report on Greitens' use of a charity donor list ahead of the 2016 election.
Richardson said the power to remove someone from elected office is "one of the most serious and consequential powers the Constitution grants the Legislature."
"We will not take that responsibility lightly," Richardson said. "We will not act rashly, but we will not shrink from it."
Richardson said he had not spoken to the governor, who remained defiant as calls for his resignation mounted Wednesday afternoon and evening.
The woman's testimony made under oath was included in the report and released to the public for the first time Wednesday.
The woman said Greitens on multiple occasions hit her. She said he bound her to exercise equipment, put a blindfold on her, undressed her and took a photo of her without consent in order to keep her silent. She felt coerced to give him oral sex on his basement floor while she cried.
Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied other allegations contained in the report.
At a press conference less than an hour before the report was released, Greitens defiantly bucked calls for his resignation. He said the report signed by five Republicans and two Democrats would include "lies and falsehoods." He repeatedly called it a "political witch hunt," mimicking President Donald Trump's complaints about the ongoing investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 campaign.
It was not clear whether Democrats would support waiting for a special session to take up Greitens' future as governor.
House Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said the House should begin impeachment proceedings if Greitens refuses to step down, possibly even before the committee finishes its work. She wasn’t sure whether her fellow Democrats would support the call for a special session.
"We just saw a governor that took absolutely no responsibility for anything at all," McCann Beatty said. "It was an absolute disgrace. He was absolutely dishonorable and it is time for him to resign. So yes we need to move forward."
Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County, said in a statement the House should move forward with impeachment if Greitens refuses to step down.
"Based on the shocking and unsettling events detailed in this report, we have no faith in Eric Greitens' ability to effectively govern," Walsh said. "He must resign immediately. If he refuses to do the right thing, the Missouri House of Representatives should move forward with the impeachment process."
In the hours before and after the committee report became public, Republicans and Democrats alike began calling for his resignation. The calls grew louder as lawmakers processed the report, and some went further, saying he should be impeached if he refuses to resign.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, was one of few Republicans calling for Greitens' impeachment and said the governor "no longer had the moral authority to lead." If the governor doesn't resign, Rowden said, the House should move "swiftly toward impeachment."
"His troubling conduct is an insult not only to my moral values, but also to the values of millions of Missourians," Rowden said.
It wasn’t the first time Rowden or Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, called for Greitens' resignation.
"I said earlier, I think for the best for him, his family and the state he should, but that's his decision," Engler said.
Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, said she believed the woman's claims and called for Greitens to step down, but she said it was too early to make any judgments about impeaching the governor if he doesn't step down.
"Violence against women is never acceptable," Evans said. "I'm overwhelmed with sadness for the state."
Some members of the General Assembly doubted Greitens' ability to lead under the circumstances.
"This report confirms that legislative business is not going to return to normal until the governor resigns or is removed," said Rep. Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty. "I have no confidence in our governor's ability to lead our state right now and the information that has come to light is beyond distracting, it's completely disgusting. My constituents certainly don't deserve this."
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-St. Louis County, called the allegations "extremely disturbing" and said Greitens has "been distracted and has not been an effective governor" as he fights off the investigation and his criminal indictment for invasion of privacy.
"And now he's out attacking the integrity of the committee, which on a bipartisan basis found the allegations to be credible and the witness to be credible," Dogan said. "So my heart breaks for his family and the woman's family and everybody involved, but I think he needs to resign.”
Others expressed condolences for Greitens’ family. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said she felt sorry for Greitens' wife, Sheena Greitens, and their children.
"It just saddened me — I mean, just made me angry to think that this is the man who prides himself on being a family man and having these family values," Nasheed said. "And then to have to put his family through this. I just think the best thing for him to do is to resign."
Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said there would be "no question" Greitens needs to resign when Missourians see the contents of the report. He said he felt for the woman with whom Greitens had the affair, calling her a victim.
"Feelings are with her, for anyone who has been a victim of a situation like this, and also with the first lady and the children," Razer said. "So this affects a lot of people. The governor should absolutely resign today."
In the afternoon, members of both chambers were briefed on the contents of the report. House and Senate Republicans met across town at the headquarters of the Missouri Farm Bureau. Many didn't return to the Statehouse or respond to requests for comment. Democrats gathered in the basement of the building.
Rep. Dan Stacy, R-Blue Springs, declined to comment on the contents of the report.
"There is a process, and I trust it," Stacy said.
Rep. Nate Walker, R-Kirksville, said Greitens should resign.
Nasheed said with the affair dominating conversations in Jefferson City, there's little focus on policy.
"Those are not even the conversations that people are having right in this building. Or the fact that our infrastructure is crumbling and the roads and bridges need to be repaired," Nasheed said. "They're not talking about the high unemployment rate of poor people — black and white — throughout the state. The only thing that’s being talked about right now is a scandal."
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, the House minority whip, called the details of the affair "pretty horrendous."
"We reviewed a little bit, but it was hard to read, so I think at this point we need to all go back and review the report," Kendrick said. "Read it thoroughly and determine at that point how we should proceed, but he definitely needs to resign from office immediately."
On Twitter, Kendrick called Greitens "scum."
Foreshadowing Greitens’ possible political toxicity during an election year, Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, was one of few Republicans who publicly called for impeachment if Greitens refused to resign.
Corlew is running for a vacant state Senate seat in Clay County considered one of the few remaining swing districts in Missouri.
Corlew said in a statement that he said as soon as January Greitens should be held accountable. After Greitens was indicted for felony invasion of privacy, Corlew called for his resignation.
"Because I couldn't 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 on our state," Corlew said.
With the knowledge of the report, Corlew was "even more troubled."
Corlew’s Democratic opponent in the state Senate reace, Rep. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, went even further, calling Greitens' actions "abuse" and "domestic violence."
"Governor Greitens has brought shame on Missouri — not only with his serious sexual misconduct but also in his efforts to turn the resulting investigation into a circus and attack the victim," Arthur said. "He refuses to take responsibility, so we must hold him accountable. As I did on day one back in January, I'm calling for the governor to resign. If he doesn’t, the House should impeach him."
Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, assistant House minority leader, said it would be "inappropriate" for her to comment on the report because she was one of the members of the investigative committee. In a statement with Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis, the other Democratic member of the committee, she said the committee needed to extend its investigation to finish examining issues beyond those contained in the report.
"Our committee remains dedicated to its task and will not be deterred by Eric Greitens' baseless attacks on our witnesses, our integrity or our common sense," Mitten said. "And as we move forward, we remain sympathetic to the victim and the governor's family for what they are being forced to endure as a result of the governor's actions and choices."