The Missouri General Assembly has taken the historic step of calling itself back into special session to decide whether to impeach Gov. Eric Greitens.
According to the petition signed by 138 House members and 29 senators — both more than the three-fourths required in each cahmber to call a special session — lawmakers will consider the findings and recommendations of a House committee investigating Greitens, “including, but not limited to disciplinary actions against Gov. Eric R. Greitens.”
The special session would begin at 6:30 p.m. on May 18, immediately after the legislature adjourns its regular session for the year. It will mark the first time in Missouri history that lawmakers have called a special session themselves instead of relying on the governor to do so.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, first proposed a special session last month after a special House committee investigating Greitens released a report detailing allegations of abuse, blackmail and sexual coercion made by a woman with whom he had an affair in 2015.
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"Today's actions ensure there will be a conclusion to this process," Richardson said, later adding: "This path is not the one I would have chosen for Missourians or for my colleagues. I've hoped from the beginning of this process that the committee would find no wrongdoing. ... Unfortunately, this is where the facts led. We will not avoid doing what is right, just because it's hard."
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, agreed with Richardson.
"This is a necessary step," she said. "We have to make sure we do this right, and the best way to do that is to give the committee time to complete the investigation, and if they see fit, to file articles of impeachment."
She said some of her fellow Democrats refused to sign because they wanted impeachment to start immediately. Others thought impeachment should wait until after Greitens' criminal trial, which starts May 14.
Impeaching the governor would take 82 votes in the House. The Senate would then appoint seven judges to conduct a trial. If five agree he should be removed from office, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson would take over. Parson would serve until his term ends in early 2021.
Legislators’ support for Greitens has worn thin in the weeks since the first House report detailed allegations stemming from his affair. This week, the same House special committee investigating him released a second report that says Greitens took a list of donors from the veterans charity he founded, The Mission Continues, and used it to raise money for his political campaign.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, called The Mission Continues allegations “very troubling” and said he used to work for a nonprofit.
“The idea that you could take a nonprofit list and use it for political purposes is flat out wrong,” Dogan said. “Eric Greitens knew it was wrong at the time he was doing it, and there were questions raised by people who he was telling to do this.”
Greitens has acknowledged the affair but denies allegations of abuse and blackmail and has spent money to boost news articles on Facebook that bash St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who is prosecuting Greitens for two felonies.
House leaders argue that waiting for a special session to deal with Greitens keeps them focused on their normal business, like the budget, during the regular legislative session.
Senators, including President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, had urged the House to begin impeachment proceedings immediately. Democrats in the Senate threatened to wreak havoc on the remaining weeks of the legislative session if impeachment proceedings don’t begin.
A group of Democrats sought to put pressure on Richardson earlier this week by circulating a letter urging him to move forward. They were frustrated he had not sent a bill introduced by Beatty to a committee for debate.
Beatty’s bill would authorize the special committee investigating Greitens to file articles of impeachment.
“We have less than 3 weeks left in session. What are we waiting for?” Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, said in a release. “Further delay in this matter tells our constituents across the state that despite unanimous agreement of a bipartisan committee that the allegations of atrocious sexual assault are credible, such assault is insufficient cause to remove our state’s highest elected official from office.”
But ultimately, many of those who had preferred the impeachment process start immediately decided to support the call for a special session.
“Eric Greitens should have resigned weeks ago," said Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County. "Unfortunately, he has refused to do the right thing. That’s why members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have joined our Republican colleagues in calling the Missouri General Assembly into special session immediately following the conclusion of regular business to consider the impeachment of the governor.”
Richard said impeachment is not something that will happen overnight.
“The process has monumental consequences, and the gravity of what we are commencing is not taken lightly,” he said.
Only one other Missouri official — former Secretary of State Judi Moriarty in 1994 — has been removed from office following impeachment.
Greitens' office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Also Thursday, Al Watkins, the attorney for the ex-husband of the governor's alleged victim, sent an open letter to the investigative committee saying that ethical rules preclude him from speaking to the committee about his clients.
The committee subpoenaed Watkins after he revealed last week that he had received $100,000 in two payments that he believed were intended to cover his client's legal bills amid fallout from the Greitens scandal.
Watkins revealed at a court-ordered deposition Monday that one of those payments came from Scott Faughn, the publisher of the Missouri Times.
In his letter, Watkins referred to Faughn as a client, in a contradiction of his previous public statements.
"As a matter of principle and general proposition, the Government should not compel the testimony of lawyers about interactions with their clients. ... To do so is akin to permitting a medical doctor to share with the world the genesis of the pus filled lesion for which a patient sought treatment," he said.
Watkins repeatedly stated that he was not present during the alleged crime that spurred the investigation. However, he said that he would be willing to testify if he could deliver his testimony on the House floor for "public consumption" instead of in the closed-door meetings the committee has held.
He also contended that he could get his clients to agree to waive their confidentiality agreement if the governor and his team of lawyers agreed to the same terms.
Rep. Jay Barnes, the Jefferson City Republican who chairs the committee, declined to respond to Watkins' letter.