Editorials

Greitens didn’t shoot straight with Missourians, can’t govern under indictment

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2018, file photo, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens speaks in Palmyra, Mo. A St. Louis grand jury has indicted Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge related to the Republican's affair with a woman in 2015. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced the indictment Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. She launched an investigation in January after Greitens admitted to an affair with his St. Louis hairdresser that began in March 2015. He was elected governor in November 2016.
FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2018, file photo, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens speaks in Palmyra, Mo. A St. Louis grand jury has indicted Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge related to the Republican's affair with a woman in 2015. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced the indictment Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. She launched an investigation in January after Greitens admitted to an affair with his St. Louis hairdresser that began in March 2015. He was elected governor in November 2016. AP Photo

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens now faces the biggest crisis of his short political career. Missourians have a tougher task — figuring out who is running their state.

In the charges handed up late Thursday, grand jurors found probable cause that Greitens “knowingly photographed” a person “in a state of full or partial nudity” without the person’s consent in 2015.

Further, Greitens is accused of transferring the photo so it could be seen on a computer. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said the investigation will continue.

In January, Greitens confirmed an affair with an unnamed woman in 2015 but denied allegations that he attempted to blackmail her.

Predictably, Greitens said late Thursday the charge is politically motivated. He proclaimed himself innocent and called Gardner a “reckless liberal prosecutor.”

That suggests Greitens has yet to grasp the seriousness of the situation or the trouble he has caused.

This is far more than a matter of extramarital indiscretion. The governor has yet to give Missourians a complete and honest accounting of his involvement in the scandal. He may now get that chance.

We won’t judge the governor’s guilt or innocence of the charge he now faces. Like every American, Greitens deserves the presumption of innocence and the right to defend himself.

If the governor’s transgressions are limited to an illicit relationship, he deserves condemnation but not expulsion from office. If blackmail or other crimes are involved, that calculus changes.

But he must know — as all of Missouri knows — that Thursday’s felony indictment will present an enormous distraction from his work as governor and the difficult problems facing the state he wishes to lead.

Greitens has few friends in the Missouri General Assembly. Calls for his resignation are already multiplying. Some members of the legislature may contemplate impeachment. The Missouri House will begin a formal investigation, which could interfere with other important policy debates.

We are not yet prepared to call for the governor to resign. But he should seriously consider declaring to the legislature — as allowed by the state constitution — that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

Lt. Gov. Mike Parson would then serve until the case is resolved.

We take no joy in writing this recommendation. But Missourians deserve a full-time governor devoted to their welfare, not one focused on a felony accusation in court.

Greitens can blame no one but himself for this problem. He must make the problem his own and figure out a way to protect Missourians from the impact of his unacceptable behavior.

Gov. Eric Greitens has admitted he had an extramarital affair in 2015.

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