The crew circling Eric Greitens may be questionable, but the governor still needs to go

Al Watkins, the lawyer who has represented the ex-husband of the woman involved in an affair with Gov. Eric Greitens, received $50,000 from Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn, according to Greitens' legal team.
Al Watkins, the lawyer who has represented the ex-husband of the woman involved in an affair with Gov. Eric Greitens, received $50,000 from Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn, according to Greitens' legal team. Special to The Kansas City Star

The central fact of the alleged attack on the hairdresser who says Eric Greitens coerced her sexually and abused her physically is that the very first thing that the bipartisan Missouri House committee investigating the governor noted in its report is that lawmakers found her credible. They believed the woman’s account, and those of the friends in whom she confided at the time.

The central response of the governor is that she is a liar with an iffy grasp on reality.

Those of us calling on Greitens to step down believe that she and not he is the victim and that he and not she is untruthful and self-deluding.

But this is not to say that we don’t see the flaws in some of the others involved in this case.

First, there’s Al Watkins, who is representing the hairdresser’s now ex-husband. We’ve had doubts about Watkins since he told one of our editorial board members months ago that the initial incident in Greitens’ basement occurred as his wife, Sheena Greitens, was in the hospital giving birth. A simple check of the birth dates of the governor’s two children disproved that assertion — the dates were not even close — and told us that Watkins was sloppy, untruthful or both.

So we, too, would like to know where Watkins got the $100,000 that he says came in over the transom, anonymously. He has no idea, he says, but figures the money was meant to pay him for representing the victim’s manipulative ex-husband, who taped her tearfully telling him what had happened with Greitens without her consent or knowledge.

We also disbelieve Watkins’ argument that the ex-husband had to be talked into making what happened between Greitens and his former spouse public. “My client wanted this story to be suppressed forever,” Watkins claims. Yet he and his client shopped the story for months, including to The Star, which elected not to run it without the woman’s cooperation.

We also have questions about the prosecutor, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who is new in her job. There’s zero proof of the charge from the Greitens team that she’s overzealous and politically motivated; if that were the case, why did she initially hesitate to get involved at all?

And instead of overcharging him, we’ve wondered, based on the committee’s report, whether he was instead undercharged: Why were no sexual assault or battery charges filed?

It is troubling, though, that her office at first let the public believe that the photo on the evidence list in her invasion of privacy case against him was the photo — the one the governor allegedly took of the woman without her consent and according to her, threatened to distribute if she so much as breathed his name.

The judge in the case has found that Gardner committed sanctionable violations in failing to turn evidence over to the defense team. A video interview with the victim and interview notes from an outside investigator, William Tisaby, weren’t provided to opposing counsel, and were supposed to be. Gardner has also been criticized for hiring Tisaby, who has been accused of perjury in the past. Gardner’s office has since blamed Tisaby for the delay in turning over the video and notes. And you don’t need a law degree to know that Watkins should never have even considered representing both Tisaby and the victim’s ex-husband.

Attorneys for Greitens want Gardner disqualified from handling a second felony case against him, which alleges the governor helped himself to the valuable donor list of the veterans’ charity he started, The Mission Continues. But Greitens hasn’t been honest on that front, either.

Such nonprofits are barred from any involvement in political campaigns, and The Mission Continues has denied letting him use donor information. The governor at first said that he didn’t use the donor list at all, then acknowledged in a settlement with the Ethics Commission that he did, but with permission.

It was his fellow Republican, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is challenging Claire McCaskill in this year’s U.S. Senate race, who referred the case to Gardner, and Hawley has said he will help with the case if he’s needed. But he is at least as conflicted as Gardner, since the longer Greitens stays in office, the worse Hawley’s chances of winning the election.

Clearly, none of the above inspires robust confidence.

But it does not change the essential calculus of why Greitens should go: He’s not in the untenable spot he’s in because of some “witch hunt” but because his own outrageous behavior has cost him the public trust.