On the eve of a special legislative session to consider his impeachment, Gov. Eric Greitens struck a defiant tone Thursday, vowing to continue to fight despite allegations of criminal wrongdoing swirling around his administration.
The embattled Republican also is working to rally sympathetic GOP lawmakers in the Missouri House, meeting with more than two dozen state representatives over breakfast Wednesday in his Capitol office.
Greitens spoke Thursday to a small crowd of supporters outside the governor’s mansion, announcing he would no longer be withholding $4 million that lawmakers budgeted last year to assist biodiesel production.
It was his first public appearance since a felony invasion of privacy charge against him was dropped by the St. Louis prosecutor on Monday, and he made it clear to the crowd that he has no intention of going quietly in the face of possible impeachment.
Greitens relayed a story he told many times during the 2016 campaign about his Navy SEAL training. In the story, he and his fellow SEALs were carrying a heavy log on the beach, creating what he called not just physical pain but “spiritual pain.”
“I thought to myself, ‘If I were alone right now, I’d probably quit,’ ” he said. “The fact is I looked to my left and I saw someone who was counting on me. I looked to my right and I saw someone who was counting on me.”
Alluding to his scandal-plagued administration but never addressing it directly, Greitens said that “no matter what they throw at me, no matter how painful they try to make it, no matter how much suffering they want to put me and my family through and my team through, I want you to know that when I look to my left, I see you. And when I look to my right, I see your family and your friends and our neighbors and our community.
“And we’re going to step forward day after day after day and continue in our mission to fight for the people of Missouri.”
The felony invasion of privacy charge stems from allegations that during a 2015 affair Greitens tied up and blindfolded a woman, then took a nude photo without her consent and threatened to release it if she spoke about their relationship.
The charge was dropped Monday, although the St. Louis circuit attorney insists it could be refiled by a special prosecutor.
Greitens is charged with a second felony in St. Louis related to accusations that he stole and misused a list of donors belonging to The Mission Continues, a veterans charity he founded in 2007. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office says Greitens knowingly filed false campaign finance disclosure reports in relation to the charity donor list, a Class A misdemeanor.
The attorney general also is investigating whether Greitens’ refusal to turn over documents related to his social media use violated Missouri’s open records law. And the governor is facing a lawsuit in Cole County accusing him of using a self-destructing text message app to circumvent the state’s open records law.
Perhaps most vexing for the governor’s short-term future, however, is the ongoing investigation by a House committee created as a precursor to possible impeachment.
The committee has released two reports detailing accusations of criminal wrongdoing. This week it announced an inquiry into allegations that Greitens used shell companies to funnel money to his campaign while hiding the actual identity of the donors.
Rep. Craig Redmon, R-Canton, was one of the lawmakers who attended the meeting in Greitens’ office Wednesday morning. He said it was very informal, more "just an introduction to his legal team and what they thought was going to be important to us."
“We just want to get to the truth,” Redmon said. “It’s a monumental decision, and I can’t take this lightly.”
Redmon, who appeared at Thursday’s event with Greitens, said he’s hopeful the House will slow down its process and not make any decisions on impeachment until after any criminal charges are resolved.
Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, also was at the breakfast meeting. She’s one of only 27 lawmakers who didn’t sign a petition calling a special session to focus on the possibility of impeaching Greitens. She said Thursday that Greitens has consistently told her that once all the evidence emerges “everyone will know he’s innocent.”
She doesn’t think the impeachment process should move forward until Greitens has had a chance to tell his side, but it isn’t fair to ask him to testify while he is still facing criminal charges.
“If my attorneys said, 'Don’t testify while you have a criminal case still going,' I’d listen to them,” Rehder said. “Once his criminal cases are put to rest, he has said he’ll be 100 percent open and available.”
The governor's campaign also began pushing back at the second criminal charge against Greitens on Thursday, turning accusations that the governor stole The Mission Continues donor list against a key witness — former Greitens campaign manager Daniel Laub.
Laub told investigators with the Missouri attorney general's office earlier this year that the governor knowingly lied to the state ethics commission about how he came to possess a donor list belonging to a veterans charity. He also says he was tricked by the governor’s political advisers into taking the blame.
Catherine Hanaway, a former House speaker and attorney for Greitens' campaign, alleged Thursday that Laub turned The Mission Continues donor list over to an anti-Greitens political action committee. It's the only explanation, Hanaway argued, for how the charity's donors began getting emails attacking Greitens during the 2016 campaign.
As evidence, Hanaway provided a string of emails from 2015 where Greitens' campaign fundraiser, Meredith Gibbons, says she used the donor list "for fundraising purposes."
Less than a year later, Greitens would publicly deny he ever used the list for fundraising purposes.
Hanaway requested the opportunity to cross-examine Laub as part of the committee's continued investigation.
Laub's attorney released a statement Thursday saying panning Hanaway's "baseless allegations."
"After he left the Greitens campaign in the Fall of 2015, Danny in all respects abided by nondisclosure agreements he had with Mr. Greitens and his organizations," the statement said, noting that Laub remained a Greitens supporter even after leaving the campaign.
The use of The Mission Continues' email list has already been an issue for Greitens.
New York Times reporter Ben Casselman has said that after he donated to The Mission Continues in 2012, he began getting campaign-related emails from Greitens. His experience is similar to that of another source that provided The Star emails showing he’d signed up for email updates from The Mission Continues in 2010, then began getting fund-raising emails from the Greitens campaign in 2015.
The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Greitens used his Mission Continues email address to arrange political meetings as he prepared to launch his first bid for public office, despite a federal ban on nonprofits participating in political campaigns.