The Missouri House is launching an investigation into allegations that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens used a naked picture to threaten blackmail against a woman with whom he carried out a 2015 affair.
The announcement of the probe came hours after a St. Louis grand jury on Thursday indicted Greitens, a Republican, on felony invasion of privacy charges,
A growing number of lawmakers from both parties are calling for Greitens to step down or be impeached. But the governor says he committed no crimes, and is calling the criminal investigation politically motivated. His lawyers are seeking to have the indictment thrown out.
“We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward,” House Speaker Todd Richardson (R) said in a statement provided to the Kansas City Star.
A local reporter spotted Greitens being taken into custody at St. Louis’ Carnahan Courthouse Thursday afternoon before he was released on bond. News of his indictment was splashed across across the front pages of Missouri’s major newspapers the next morning, along with his mugshot.
“With today’s disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken,” Greitens said in a statement shared on Facebook. “I know this will be righted soon. The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points.”
Greitens said he made a mistake in having an affair with his former hairdresser, but “did not commit a crime.”
He was backed up by the Missouri GOP, who released a statement tying St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, to George Soros, and calling the investigation a “political hit job.”
Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Gardner, fired back at Greitens. “Despite the Governor’s personal attacks, the Circuit Attorney believes the courtroom is the appropriate place to argue the facts, not the media,” Ryan said in a statement.
At the center of the charges against the governor is a nude photo that Greitens took of the woman during a visit to his St. Louis home.
Greitens’ attorney, Edward Dowd, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming that the woman was aware that Greitens was taking the photo, and that it was part of a consensual relationship.
“No appellate case law exists approving criminal convictions where individuals involved were jointly participating in sexual activity,” Dowd wrote in the motion, which was obtained by the Associated Press. “Nor has case law ever affirmed a conviction where the ‘victim’ was in the home of the other person to engage in private sexual activity with that other person.”
But in a secret recording made by the woman’s husband shortly after the March 2015 incident occurred, she said Greitens blindfolded her, bound her to a piece of exercise equipment and undressed her before taking the photograph.
“I saw a flash through the blindfold and he said, ‘You’re never going to mention my name,'” she said.
Greitens has denied threatening the woman with blackmail but has not clearly denied taking the picture.
Top Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans in the Missouri legislature called publicly for the governor to resign or be impeached.
Republican State Sen. Caleb Rowden said on Twitter that he was “disgusted to learn” that the grand jury found sufficient evidence to indict Greitens and that his immediate resignation was essential for the “sake of our state.”
Republican Rep. Nate Walker, who called for Greitens to step down after the allegations against him first surfaced in January, told the Star: “My understanding was he was led off in handcuffs and that’s not a good sign for our executive of the state of Missouri. He should resign.”
On Thursday, Greitens canceled a planned appearance at this weekend’s Republican Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., and stepped down from the group’s executive committee.
Greitens is due in court March 16.
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