By Annika Merrilees and Kaylin Baylis
JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Senate business largely was dominated Thursday by frank discussion of the investigation into Gov. Eric Greitens, and a top Republican lawmaker called for the governor to step down immediately.
A House investigative committee released a report Wednesday evening containing witness testimony about Greitens’ encounters with a woman he had an affair with in 2015. The report details the woman’s sexual encounters with Greitens, in which she describes acts of physical violence and multiple instances in which she said she did not consent to his actions. He has said all of their encounters were consensual.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe called the contents of the report “disturbing and disgusting” and said Greitens has “lost the moral authority and the ability to lead the state going forward.”
“It will be impossible for him to effectively lead,” Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, wrote in a statement first published in the Missouri Times. “Remaining in office reeks of the self-serving actions of a ‘career politician’ the governor has mockingly derided since his inauguration.”
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-Buchanan, who has been a vocal opponent of the governor, predicted Greitens will not resign.
In the coming days, Schaaf said, he hoped every legislator would join the many voices who have called for Greitens’ resignation.
Greitens issued a statement Thursday afternoon, after the Senate had adjourned, saying that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner turned over a videotape of the woman’s testimony that he said had been withheld. He said in the statement the woman does not mention coercion in the video and that other details were inconsistent with the testimony released in the House investigation.
Gardner is prosecuting the governor on a charge of felony invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a revealing photo of the woman without her permission and transmitting it. His trial is scheduled to begin May 14.
After the Senate adjourned, Schaaf released a letter to President Donald Trump requesting that he ask Greitens to step down.
On the Senate floor, Schaaf said, “President Trump, I’m speaking to you. We have an emergency here in Missouri … If you give him the orders, if you tell him to stand down, Mr. President, I believe that he will.”
The letter is signed by Schaaf, Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington. Libla and Romine have joined Schaaf in past opposition to the governor.
The Senate voted to pass a bill during Thursday’s session which drew immediate backlash from Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. She asked whether the Senate should be sending any legislation to the governor, who she called a “sexual predator.”
“I don’t even think he needs to be here,” Nasheed said. “He shouldn’t even have the authority to sign anything.”
In the next approximately 80 minutes, the Senate debated its next steps.
Nasheed said the current situation indicates that someone “can victimize a woman and still serve in the top position.”
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said that it was “outrageous” to let Greitens be the ultimate policymaker.
“I am scared for the state of Missouri,” Schupp said.
Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said she was appalled by the “predatory actions” she read in the report. “We are villainizing the victim by not proceeding,” she said.
“I have no faith in that man,” Walsh said. “I don’t think we need to wait for any other reports.”
Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said that this “isn’t about the bill … but the reality is we’re all at a point of dismay and disgust.”
Nasheed asked Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, “why wait” to start the impeachment process? Dixon said that that is not a question the Missouri Senate can answer.
Under Missouri law, the House must move to impeach the governor.
The criminal case should only play out in the courts, Dixon said. He said this is “not the time for us to use this for political purposes.”
Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said the budget bills are about the only House bills he’s interested in spending time on if the House doesn’t move to impeach.
At a press conference after the session, Kehoe addressed the statement he had released which questioned Greitens’ ability to lead.
Kehoe said his comments probably would have been different if Greitens hadn’t “continued to attack” the investigative committee by calling the investigation a “witch hunt.”
House leaders on Wednesday said they are going to seek lawmakers’ support for a special session this summer to consider action regarding the governor.
The goal would be to deal with the rest of the state’s business during the closing weeks of the regular session.
Kehoe reminded Sifton that court proceedings can drag on for a long time. Kehoe added “the situation — because it’s historic, it’s somber, and it deserves the proper attention — is worthy of a special session.”
Sifton spoke to Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, on the Senate floor. Chappelle-Nadal has spoken out in the past about instances in which she was sexually harassed in the legislature, and she spoke about it again during Thursday’s session.
Sifton told her, “I’ve heard everything you’ve had to say today” and “I appreciate you saying it.”
Chappelle-Nadal voiced her disappointment at the lack of support she received in the instances when she was sexually harassed, saying “one of the things we are dealing with is continual silence.”
After the session, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, defended the House members’ work, saying he doesn’t consider it to be “a ‘witch hunt’ or ‘tabloid trash,’” as Greitens has referred to it.
“I would note that this situation is without precedent in the state of Missouri, and the governor must seriously consider whether it is in the best interest of the state and of his family to continue this ordeal,” Onder said.
“The House will, appropriately, continue its work, and we in the Senate will carefully study all the findings of the committee and stand ready to discharge our Constitutional duties as the occasion should dictate.”