ST. LOUIS — Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in June 2018 amid a sex scandal, criminal charges and ethics investigations, announced Monday that he will seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022. Here is an explanation of some of the legal and ethical trouble Greitens, now 46, encountered while serving as governor.
WHAT WAS HIS BACKGROUND?
Greitens was a political novice when he defeated a well-funded businessman and two political veterans to win the 2016 GOP nomination for governor. His appeal went beyond that of a political outsider: He was a former Navy SEAL officer, a Rhodes scholar, a successful author and founder of The Mission Continues, a charity that helps veterans adjusting to civilian life. He defeated Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the November 2016 general election. A year into office, he was popular enough among Republicans that he was being mentioned as a future presidential candidate.
WHEN DID HIS TROUBLES BEGIN?
On Jan. 10, 2018, soon after Greitens concluded his state of the state speech, St. Louis TV station KMOV aired a report that the married father of two had had an affair in 2015 with his St. Louis hairdresser. The TV report featured a conversation secretly recorded by the woman’s then-husband in which she described to him some of her interactions with Greitens. In it, she says Greitens took a photo of her while she was partially nude and threatened to release it if she exposed their relationship. Greitens issued a statement admitting to the affair but calling it consensual and denying blackmail.
HOW DID THE AFFAIR BECOME A CRIMINAL MATTER?
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, launched an investigation immediately after the media report. The investigation resulted in a St. Louis grand jury indicting Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge on Feb. 22, 2018.
WHY WAS THAT CRIMINAL CHARGE DROPPED?
Jury selection began in May 2018. But three days later, a judge ordered Gardner to provide a statement under oath at the request of Greitens’ attorneys. They had accused Gardner of allowing a private investigator she hired to commit perjury and withhold evidence. Gardner said she had no choice but to drop the charge because Missouri’s rules of professional conduct prohibit attorneys from litigating a case in which they’ve been called as a witness.
A week later a judge appointed Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker as a special prosecutor to consider whether to refile the invasion of privacy charge. In June 2018, after Greitens had resigned, Baker announced that she believed the woman’s claim about a photo, but there wasn’t enough evidence to merit a criminal charge without relying on the woman’s testimony, and she didn’t want to participate. “She never wanted this,” Baker said. “She never willingly came forward, but she did tell the truth.”
No photo was found on Grietens’ phone. Baker said that a phone that forensic examiners looked at had at least 31,000 fewer files in May than it had in April.
Greitens has frequently denied criminal behavior but has refused to answer direct questions about the alleged blackmail photo.
Meanwhile, the Republican-led Missouri House had formed a bipartisan committee to investigate Greitens on March 1, 2018. On April 11, the committee released a graphic report on the affair. The woman involved with Greitens told investigators that he slapped, spanked, shoved, grabbed and called her derogatory names during a series of sexual encounters in 2015. The committee found her testimony credible. Greitens said the report was part of a “witch hunt.”
WHEN DID GREITENS FACE A SECOND CRIMINAL CHARGE?
On March 1, 2018, then Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican and now a senator, opened an inquiry into whether Greitens used a donor list from The Mission Continues for his political campaign. Hawley’s investigation determined that Greitens may have committed a felony by taking the charity’s donor list and using it for political fundraising without the charity’s permission. Hawley turned his evidence over to Gardner’s office. On April 20, 2018, Greitens was charged with felony tampering with computer data. He called the allegations “ridiculous.” Meanwhile, state House investigators also began looking into that case.
HOW DID ALL OF THIS CULMINATE?
On May 3, 2018, Republican leaders in the Missouri House and Senate announced they had enough signatures to call a special legislative session to consider disciplinary actions against Greitens that could include impeachment. Gardner was moving ahead with the evidence tampering case and the potential existed for refiling of the invasion of privacy charge. Amid this backdrop, Greitens resigned from office on June 1, 2018. Gardner announced she would no longer pursue charges and the House investigations ceased.
DID THE ETHICAL ISSUES END THERE?
No. The Missouri Ethics Commission launched an investigation into whether the Greitens campaign broke the law by not reporting that it cooperated with a political action committee in 2016. In February 2020, the commission found “probable cause” and issued a $178,000 fine, though it required payment of just $38,000. The commission didn’t find evidence that Greitens personally knew about the campaign finance issues. For that reason, Greitens said the report exonerated him.
WAS THERE FALLOUT FOR THOSE WHO INVESTIGATED AND PROSECUTED GREITENS?
Yes. Gardner’s handling of the case drew significant criticism from Greitens supporters who said it was politically motivated. More damning were allegations that the investigator she hired, former FBI agent William Tisaby, lied under oath. In June 2019, Tisaby was indicted on seven felony counts accusing him of lying in a deposition about his interview with the woman who had the affair with Greitens. Gardner was not charged in the case, though officials have never announced the case was closed. Tisaby’s case has not yet gone to trial. Gardner, meanwhile, was easily reelected in 2020.