With a lot of unanswered questions about the allegations and a troubling accusation about political skullduggery, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) was indicted by a grand jury in St. Louis on Thursday for conduct stemming from a 2015 extramarital affair. The charge — a single count of felony invasion of privacy — stems from a single accusation that Greitens, in an effort to cover up his marital infidelity, threatened the woman with whom he was having the affiar that he would release an intimate photo of her if she spoke about their relationship. There is currently no evidence that such a photo exists.
Greitens’ threat was first reported by local St. Louis news station KMOV, after the woman’s ex-husband approached the network. The ex-husband is alleged to have ties to political operatives within the Missouri Democratic Party. The man had secretly recorded a conversation he had with his then-wife, in which she apparently confesses to the affair with Greitens. She alleged that Greitens invited her to his home and posed her for a compromising photo before saying, “You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise there will be pictures of [you] everywhere.”
The blackmail allegation against Greitens led to a criminal investigation by St. Louis Circuit Attorney and Democrat Kim Gardner, whose office handed down the indictment Thursday. Greitens has denied blackmailing the woman, the Springfield News-Leader notes, though he has admitted to having the affair and his wife, Sheena, has publicly stated that she has forgiven him and they are seeking counseling as a couple.
Greitens’ attorney issued a scathing statement challenging the indictment.
“In 40 years of public and private practice, I have never seen anything like this,” attorney Edward L. Dowd Jr. said in a statement. “The charges against my client are baseless and unfounded. My client is absolutely innocent. We will be filing a motion to dismiss.”
The penalty for first-degree invasion of privacy in Missouri is up to four years in prison.
Greitens was taken into custody in St. Louis and released on his own recognizance, said Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Gardner.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican, said he was shocked by the indictment and called it “certainly serious,” but said he needed time to review it before weighing in on whether the governor should step down.
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said in a statement it will be “extremely difficult for the governor to effectively do his job with a felony indictment hanging over his head. While the criminal justice system must run its course, the governor needs to consider whether remaining in office under these circumstances is the right thing to do for not only himself and his family but for the people of Missouri.”
Greitens, 43, was considered a young, smart and hard working outsider whose resume as a Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL officer made him a rising star in Republican politics.
At least five Republican legislators and several Democrats called for Greitens to step down after he admitted to the affair. He has said he will not resign.
Greitens emerged the winner in a crowded and expensive GOP primary before defeating the state’s attorney general, Democrat Chris Koster, in the November 2016 election to give Republicans control of the governor’s mansion for the first time in eight years.
Despite the party’s strengthened clout in Jefferson City, there have been frequent clashes between lawmakers and Greitens, who compared them to third-graders and labeled them “career politicians.”
Greitens’ outsider stance has upset what many considered a “good ole boy” atmosphere in the State’s capitol where anything goes.