Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who was once considered a rising star in the Republican Party, has been under siege since January, when accusations emerged that he threatened to use a nude photo to blackmail his former hairstylist, with whom he was having an extramarital affair.
On Thursday, the crisis came to a head, when Greitens was indicted by a grand jury on a felony invasion of privacy charge and booked in a St. Louis jail.
But after Greitens was released — on his own recognizance, according to court records — the freshman governor, who has previously said he will not resign, appeared to dig in, writing on Facebook that he would fight the charges and remain in office.
“This will not for a moment deter me from doing the important work of the great people of Missouri,” he wrote.
He called the indictment a “disappointing and misguided political decision” and added: “I look forward to the legal remedies to reverse this action.”
On Friday, the Republican Governors Association said that Greitens would be skipping the group’s meeting this weekend in Washington “to remain in Missouri … to fight back against what his team has called a baseless charge.” The RGA said in a statement that Greitens had been stripped of his role on the group’s executive committee in the wake of his arrest.
Greitens had allegedly threatened the woman by saying he would distribute a nude photo he had secretly taken of her if she exposed their relationship.
The accusations stemmed from a covert recording by the woman’s ex-husband published by KMOV in St. Louis, in which the woman is heard describing how Greitens invited her to his home in 2015 and, with her consent, taped her hands to exercise rings and blindfolded her. He then allegedly took a photo of her naked.
The indictment states that Greitens then photographed the woman “in a state of full or partial nudity” without her knowledge or consent. Greitens then “transmitted the image contained in the photograph in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer,” which is a felony.
“As I have said before, I made a personal mistake before I was Governor,” Greitens said Thursday. “I did not commit a crime.”
In Missouri, first-degree invasion of privacy is punishable by up to four years in prison.
Greitens’s attorney, Edward L. Dowd Jr., said in a statement that “in 40 years of public and private practice, I have never seen anything like this.”
“The charges against my client are baseless and unfounded. My client is absolutely innocent. We will be filing a motion to dismiss,” he said.
In January, Greitens admitted in a Facebook post that he had been unfaithful to his wife before he was elected governor in 2016.
His attorney has denied the blackmail accusations.
That same month, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner launched an investigation.
“It is essential for residents of the City of St. Louis and our state to have confidence in their leaders,” Gardner said. “They must know that the Office of the Circuit Attorney will hold public officials accountable in the same manner as any other resident of our city. Both parties and the people of St. Louis deserve a thorough investigation of these allegations.”
Young and telegenic, a former Navy SEAL and Rhodes scholar who had just ascended to a statewide position, Greitens was viewed by Republicans as a politician to watch.
Following his indictment, at least one Democrat in the statehouse called for Greitens to be impeached, and a number of Missouri lawmakers — from both parties — demanded that Greitens resign.
State Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Republican, said Greitens had damaged the reputation of the office of governor. Another Republican senator said, simply: “ … he’s done.”
Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the indictment was a shock, but he tried to ease concerns that the indictment would affect the legislative session, which runs through mid-May.
“We will make sure that the ship runs straight and that some of the issues that are coming out don’t deter us from doing the right thing and protecting people from the wrong thing that could come out of this building,” Kehoe told the newspaper.
He said he was “not prepared to say” whether Greitens should resign.
The indictment was a political jolt to a state that was already shaping up as a battleground in the 2018 midterm elections.
Missouri is one of 10 states U.S. Senate Democrats are defending that President Trump won in 2016. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is running for reelection and Republicans are hoping that the state’s conservative tilt will help them defeat her.
But some doubts have emerged in GOP circles about Attorney General Josh Hawley, a prized Republican Senate recruit. Party strategists have said they worry about his fundraising ability.
Democrats seized on the indictment, with the Democratic Governors Association calling on Greitens to step down immediately.
“The charges against Eric Greitens are deeply disturbing and prove he is unfit to hold public office,” said DGA Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson. “The people of Missouri deserve a governor who can focus full time on the issues affecting the state.”
Stephen Webber, head of the Missouri Democratic Party, tweeted: “Everything about @EricGreitens — his dark money, his lies, his scandals, his crimes — has been a stain on Missouri. Through it all, the Republican Establishment has stood by him. Change can’t come soon enough. #MOGov #MOLeg”
This post has been updated.