When he was running for Missouri governor, Eric Greitens wrote a letter lambasting politicians who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
“Liars, cowards, sociopaths,” he wrote of people he had met during his brief time in politics. “They are often deeply broken and disturbed people, who — like criminals who prey on the innocent — take their pleasure and make their living by victimizing honest people. They are drawn to politics as vultures flock to rotting meat — and they feed off the carcasses of vice.”
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, outlined what he saw as “our duty,” writing that “we can, we must — and we will — kill the snakes.”
Now, Greitens’s opponents — and even some of his former supporters — are using those words against the Missouri governor.
Greitens, a Republican, has been under siege since last week, when accusations emerged in news reports that he threatened to blackmail his former hairstylist, with whom he was having an extramarital affair. He reportedly threatened to distribute a nude photo he surreptitiously took of her if she ever revealed their relationship.
The allegations stem from a recording made covertly by the woman’s ex-husband and published by KMOV in St. Louis. In the recording, the woman is heard describing how Greitens allegedly invited her to his home in 2015 and, with her consent, taped her hands to exercise rings and blindfolded her. He then allegedly took photographs of her naked and threatened to distribute them if she said anything about the relationship.
The names of the woman and her ex-husband are known to politicos who follow Missouri politics. But news organizations have avoided identifying them.
Following the news reports, the governor admitted he was unfaithful to his wife before being elected, but his lawyer denied the blackmail allegation.
When a St. Louis prosecutor said she would investigate the reported accusations, they took on greater weight.
On Tuesday, the controversy escalated as state lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle called for Greitens to resign. Four Republican state representatives publicly condemned his behavior and called for his resignation.
“In a letter he wrote two years ago he stated it’s ‘our duty to kill the snakes’,” state Rep. Marsha Haefner, a Republican from Oakville, wrote in a Facebook post. “As a public servant it’s my duty to ask for Governer Greitens to resign immediately and allow Missouri to move on, move forward and get back to work.”
Some of the calls for resignation came amid news reports that a taxpayer-funded attorney played a fact-finding role in dealing with the governor’s personal scandal.
Before news of the allegations against Greitens broke on Jan. 10, an attorney for the governor’s office, Lucinda Luetkemeyer, spoke with a lawyer for the hairstylist’s ex-husband, the man who exposed his former wife’s extramarital affair with Greitens, according to audio of the conversation obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Associated Press.
“She was clearly calling me trying to facilitate damage control,” the St. Louis attorney, Albert Watkins, told the Associated Press. “If it’s a private and personal matter, why is your counsel calling?”
“I found it chillingly disturbing that she would make that call as a state-paid employee,” Watkins told the Post-Dispatch.
Several legal experts raised ethical concerns over the governor’s decision to use public resources to defend himself, according to the Post-Dispatch. Greitens’s private attorney told the newspaper that the governor is now paying for his own legal team but did not address any moves made before the allegations broke.
Watkins said his client also made additional recordings of exchanges with his ex-wife, which he has forwarded to both the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office and the FBI, according to the AP. He called the recordings “graphic” but declined to be more specific. The FBI has not said whether a federal investigation is underway, the AP reported.
After all of this, Greitens released a statement on Facebook Tuesday night apologizing for the “personal mistake” he made, and asking for the public’s forgiveness.
“Much has now been written about this, and many of the assertions made have not been truthful and have proven extremely hurtful to Sheena, as well as to me,” Greitens wrote, referring to his wife, Sheena Greitens, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri. “For us, the allegations that go so far beyond the facts have made this much more difficult. I made a mistake, I regret it, and Sheena and I have dealt with it between us. For us, that is where this story starts, and that is where this story ends. We again ask for privacy for everyone involved.
“Then and now, we are focused on moving forward,” Greitens added. “I ask for your forgiveness and hope you can find it in your heart to do so. I assure you that this personal mistake will not deter us from the mission we were sent here to do.”
But for several state lawmakers, including some of Greitens’s former key supporters, there was no way for the governor to bounce back from this.
“I was proud to be one of the first supporters of Eric Greitens for governor,” Rep. Nate Walker of Kirksville, a Republican, said in a Facebook post. But he said it has become clear that “this scandal will make it impossible to lead the state going forward.”
The news that state employees were “involved in attempting to control the scandal is further proof that this will not be going away anytime soon,” Walker said. “It is my belief the Governor should resign so that the state can move forward focusing on the issues that we all care about.”
Asked in a St. Louis Public Radio interview if these calls for resignation signaled that the governor’s political support is evaporating, he said, “Yeah, I think so . . . sometimes we make mistakes in life that have consequences that are greater than our own personal interests.”
Haefner, the Republican from Oakville, wrote that Greitens is “no longer fit to hold Missouri’s highest office.”
“When a man cheats on his wife, it’s a family matter,” Haefner said. “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.”
“If Missouri Republicans want to say we honestly support family values, we must be prepared to take a stand and not allow these acts to be supported by our party,” Conway said. “It is easy to say we stand for family values. It is much harder today when we actually have to possibly put thought actions behind those words.”
As the Post-Dispatch pointed out, these representatives are only a small fraction of the 112 members of the Republican House caucus. The “vast majority” of Republicans have come short of asking the governor to resign. Republican State Rep. Phil Christofanelli tweeted that the resignation calls are “premature” and “unfair.”
“Until there is hard evidence of a crime, our focus should be on doing the people’s work,” Christofanelli said, adding that Greitens “served our country honorably and has earned the right of the presumption of innocence that we grant to every American.”
Still, the calls for resignation mark a sharp turn for a newcomer politician known for his stellar résumé. The former Navy SEAL and lieutenant commander was a PhD Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and White House Fellow during the administration of President George W. Bush. According to a profile in St. Louis magazine, Greitens has had presidential aspirations since he was a young man. In 2014, he was listed in Fortune as one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.”
He ran for governor touting an image of a political outsider and loyal family man, with a wife and two young kids. At the time of his extramarital affair, he was in the midst of his gubernatorial campaign and four years into his marriage. His youngest son was an infant.
“With so much on the line,” wrote Ray Hartmann, publisher of St. Louis magazine, “what could have he been thinking?”
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