By Gloria Lloyd
The Latest: Haefner asks Greitens to resign
In a head-spinning turn of events last week, Gov. Eric Greitens fell from announcing the “boldest state tax reform in America” to admitting to an affair and fighting for his political career amid a blackmail investigation.
One hour after Greitens highlighted tax reform in his second State of the State address Jan. 10, he released a statement admitting to an affair after a St. Louis television station aired a story alleging that Greitens had an affair with his unnamed hairstylist in 2015, before he officially announced his run for governor.
The woman’s now ex-husband, whose identity was also kept anonymous by media outlets, secretly recorded her saying that Greitens tied her up in his Central West End basement, blindfolded her and took a picture, allegedly threatening to release the photo if she ever said anything about their affair.
Greitens and his wife, Sheena, released a joint statement that read: “A few years ago, before Eric was elected governor, there was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage. This was a deeply personal mistake. Eric took responsibility, and we dealt with this together honestly and privately. While we never would have wished for this pain in our marriage, or the pain that this has caused others, with God’s mercy Sheena has forgiven and we have emerged stronger. We understand that there will be some people who cannot forgive — but for those who can find it in your heart, Eric asks for your forgiveness, and we are grateful for your love, your compassion and your prayers.”
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner opened a criminal investigation into the blackmail claims the next day.
Although Greitens admitted the affair, he denied any blackmail through his attorney James Bennett and alleged that those claims came from Democrats.
“This is and remains an almost 3-year-old private matter with no matter of public interest at stake,” said the statement.
In the statement, the governor traced the allegations back to a Democratic operative who once met with the ex-husband during the gubernatorial campaign. At that time, the ex-husband did not want to come forward with his story, the husband’s attorney said.
The hairstylist did not grant interviews to media outlets, but her ex-husband shopped the story around to various outlets before KMOV aired its report. In that report, the ex-husband said he felt compelled to come forward because he had been approached by FBI investigators and national media about the incident and wanted to come out with his own story first.
In a break from what is typically seen in similar political scandals, Greitens had few defenders in Jefferson City, even within his own party. Several Republicans wasted no time joining Democrats to call for him to resign.
Perhaps the strongest statement came Tuesday from south county legislator Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, who said Greitens had lost the credibility needed to run the state and should step down.
“I find no pleasure in saying this, but I believe Gov. Greitens is no longer fit to hold Missouri’s highest office,” Haefner said in a statement.
“When a man cheats on his wife, it’s a family matter,” she said in the statement. “When the governor of Missouri cheats, then allegations of victimizing his mistress, blackmail, bribes and his taxpayer-funded employee involves herself in questioning the attorney for the accuser follow, it becomes a state matter.”
The reluctance of Republicans to come to his defense can mostly be chalked up to Greitens’ frequent chiding of legislators, calling them “career politicians” who “need to go to summer school” when he called them back for two special sessions last year.
But it also stems from the questions that have followed Greitens around during his first year in office, including his refusal to disclose “dark money” campaign donors while calling for campaign and lobbyist reform and other questions surrounding the transparency of his administration, Haefner said.
“The ‘dark money’ and an investigation for the possible breach of Sunshine Laws regarding the practice of destroying texts are troubling, at best,” Haefner wrote. “Now there is the criminal investigation in St Louis. He no longer has the trust and support of many in the legislature. We have to work as a team to accomplish what citizens expect us to do, but our leader is now ineffective. Missourians deserve better. There is too much at stake.”
In the eyes of some legislators, the accusations cost Greitens the moral high ground that he often adopted in frequent Facebook posts criticizing fellow officials, public school administrators and the media. Perhaps more than any other candidate in Missouri, Greitens ran on a platform that revolved around family values and his wholesome image as a former Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar.
“He’s attacked good people to elevate his status while taking credit for the work of others. And now we’re faced with this embarrassing situation,” Haefner continued. “In a letter he wrote two years ago, he stated it’s ‘our duty to kill the snakes.’ As a public servant it’s my duty to ask for Gov.
Greitens to resign immediately and allow Missouri to move on, move forward and get back to work.”
The national headlines of “Missouri governor admits affair” may have also cost Greitens any chance of running for national office, a hope he made public years before running for governor when he registered the website EricGreitensForPresident.com.
“The governor’s lost his grip on the pulpit,” said Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Crestwood. “His ability to lead even within his own party was never very good, but now it’s all but finished.”
A bipartisan coalition of senators issued a letter asking Attorney General Josh Hawley to investigate the claims of blackmail, but Hawley responded that the proper venue for an investigation was with local authorities.
Sifton declined to sign on to that letter because he agreed an investigation should be in the hands of local prosecutors, not state officials, he said. Last month, he called on Hawley to launch an investigation into Greitens’ use of a text-messaging app called Confide that erases texts. Sifton believes that violates the Sunshine Law’s prohibition against destruction of records.
“As long as this governor remains in office, there’s going to be a fundamental lack of leadership in our state,” Sifton said.
He held the same opinion of Greitens before the latest scandal, Sifton added, but “it just keeps getting worse.”
Legislators react to news
The most immediate effect in Jefferson City could be an even more gridlocked Legislature than last year, when Greitens and Republican majorities in both the House and Senate struggled to get much passed beyond right-to-work legislation.
Last year’s legislative session was only half as productive as it could have been, Sifton estimated. That was in part due to Greitens’ tussles with powerful Republican legislators like Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who can make or break legislation.
Last year, a nonprofit linked to Greitens published ads with Schaaf’s cell phone number and asked residents to call and tell him to “stop siding with liberals.”
The night of Greitens’ admission, Schaaf tweeted, “Stick a fork in him.”
The next day, he tweeted, “Who is more credible? The crying hairdresser who doesn’t know she’s being recorded or the guy who has already been caught lying to the public and fined? (The Mission Continues donor list).”
Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Webster Groves, who represents Crestwood, joined the parade of lawmakers issuing statements.
“I was not a fly on the wall observing Eric Greitens in 2015, so I cannot confirm what the news report says,” Unsicker said. “There will be investigations, and I believe the truth will come out. Even before the investigations come to a close, Gov. Greitens knows the truth.
“If Gov. Greitens initiated unwanted sexual contact (even if it had been consensual up to that point) or threatened to blackmail anyone, he should resign.”