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Ex-wife of Missouri GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens accuses him of domestic violence in court documents

Eric Greitens speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando on Feb. 24. (Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg News)

The ex-wife of Missouri GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens accused him in court documents Monday of knocking her down, taking away her cellphone and keys, physically abusing their children and repeatedly threatening suicide if she did not publicly support him during the 2018 scandal that led to his resignation as governor.

The filing by Sheena Greitens prompted some Republicans in Missouri, including Sen. Josh Hawley, to call on the former governor to leave the race. Hawley has been critical of Greitens in the past and has endorsed a competing candidate.

“If you hit a woman or a child, you belong in handcuffs, not the United States Senate,” he wrote.

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who like Hawley had endorsed another candidate in the Missouri Senate race, and John Thune (R-S.D.) also said Monday that Greitens should withdraw from the race.

Sheena Greitens, who now lives with their children in Austin, where she works as a university associate professor, described for the first time publicly what she says she experienced at the end of their marriage, in documents filed as part of an ongoing child custody dispute in Missouri state court.

“In early June 2018, I became afraid for my safety and that of our children at our home, which was fairly isolated, due to Eric’s unstable and coercive behavior,” she wrote in the filing, which was obtained from Boone County Circuit Court. “This behavior included physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then three-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by the hair.”

Sheena Greitens also said that after her ex-husband knocked her down and took her cellphone, keys and wallet from her in April 2018, he explained his actions to her mother.

“When my mother later confronted him about this, he told her that he did so to prevent me from doing anything that might damage his political career,” Sheena Greitens said in the document.

She described one of her children coming home from a visit with Eric Greitens in November 2019 “with a swollen face, bleeding gums, and a loose tooth.”

“He said Dad had hit him; however, Eric said they were roughhousing and it had been an accident,” Sheena Greitens said in the document. The tooth, she added, later died and had to be removed.

Eric Greitens responded to the filing Monday afternoon with a statement on Twitter saying he would fight against “completely fabricated baseless allegations.”

“I am seeking full custody of my sons, and for their sake, I will continue to pray for their mother and hope that she gets the help that she needs,” he wrote.

Earlier, his campaign manager Dylan Johnson accused Sheena Greitens of being emotionally abusive and of launching “what is clearly a politically-motivated attack against him.”

“This attack is nothing more than a sad attempt to force a father to yield custody of his children to a deranged individual,” Johnson said.

The couple’s marriage ended in divorce in March of 2020 after a public scandal over allegations that Eric Greitens had taken a photo of a blindfolded, bound and undressed woman with whom he was having an affair and threatened to use it against her as blackmail. He has admitted to the affair but denied the specific allegations, including taking the photo. A felony charge against him alleging invasion of privacy against the woman, his former hairdresser, was later dropped by prosecutors.

Sheena Greitens’s description of their relationship, filed under oath, comes at a sensitive time for her former husband, who has been seeking an endorsement from former president Donald Trump in a crowded Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R).

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who leads the Republican Senate campaign efforts, said in an interview Monday that the legal filing should cause Trump to take a “big pause” as he considers whether to endorse Greitens. “I think we have got to find out exactly what happened. But I think it’s pretty disturbing,” Scott said. “It’s pretty bad.”

Sheena Greitens, in the court filing, said her ex-husband has “continued to publicly make false, untrue, and misleading claims” about the circumstance that led to his resignation as governor.

She noted a recent quote from Eric Greitens, reported by CNN, that described how he had resigned because of the “tremendous pressure that was on my kids.” She said their children, who were ages 1 and 3 in 2018, were unaware of the scandal at the time and remain unaware.

Analysis: Eric Greitens used Trump’s playbook to try to beat scandal. It didn’t work.

She also claimed that her former husband admitted to her that he had taken the photo “that resulted in the invasion of privacy felony charge.” She claims that he told her she would be exposed to “legal jeopardy if I ever disclosed that fact to anyone, even family members or a therapist.” She said she initially believed him “because of the reach of his influence in Missouri.”

Sheena Greitens said that on at least three occasions in 2018, multiple people intervened to limit Eric Greitens’s access to firearms because they were worried about his safety. She said he “repeatedly threatened to kill himself unless I provided specific public political support to him.” She said he had initially concealed a January 2018 firearm purchase from her during their marriage and refused to tell her where the gun was that summer when she asked him.

“I started sleeping in my children’s room simply to try to keep them safe,” she wrote.

She said he ordered her to destroy emails she sent to a therapist about his escalating behavior and threatened to accuse her of child abuse. She said that several days later, she decided to leave their house with their children out of fear for their safety.

“When I told Eric about my plans, he threatened to come to the airport and have me arrested for kidnapping and child abuse, saying that because of his authority as a former Governor who had supported law enforcement, the police would support him and not believe me, and I would lose our children,” she said in the affidavit.

Sheena Greitens initiated the current court battle with her ex-husband in July, when she filed a petition in a Travis County, Tex., court to modify their child custody agreement. Court documents show that Eric Greitens was served with the lawsuit Aug. 12, while he was campaigning at the Lincoln County fairgrounds in Troy, Mo.

Since then, the former couple have been battling in both Texas and Missouri courts about the proper venue for the custody dispute. Sheena Greitens filed the new affidavit this week as part of an effort to argue the case in Texas, in part because she said Eric Greitens’s past claims of political connections in Missouri had intimidated her.

Before his resignation as governor, Eric Greitens was seen as a rising star in the Republican Party. He is a former Navy SEAL who received a Purple Heart after surviving a truck bombing in Iraq. Over the past year he has tried to stage a comeback by campaigning as a supporter of Trump and his political movement. He has hired several Trump advisers to his campaign and has traveled repeatedly to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate as he seeks an endorsement from the former president, according to people familiar with his appearances there.

Despite leading in early polls, Eric Greitens faces significant opposition in the state Republican Party and concerns from some Republican strategists in Washington that his candidacy could give Democrats an opening to win in November.

Hawley has endorsed Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) for the Senate nomination. Other Republican candidates for the job include state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Rep. Billy Long, state Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Mark McCloskey, a St. Louis attorney who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault after confronting Black Lives Matter protesters outside his home with a gun.

Several of those rivals, including Schmitt and Schatz, called for him to leave the race Monday after the court filing became public.

“Real men never abuse women and children. Period. End of story,” Hartzler said in a video statement. “It’s time for Eric to get out of the Senate race and get professional help.”

A scandal-scarred Senate candidate wants Donald Trump’s endorsement. Other Republicans worry he’ll give it.

Eric Greitens’s resignation from office in 2018 followed the public disclosure of claims from the former hairdresser, who accused him of coercing her into a sexual encounter three years earlier. She testified under oath to a special investigative committee of the Missouri House that he led her to his basement, bound her hands, blindfolded and undressed her, and later coerced her into performing oral sex. She said she believed he had taken a photo of her at the time and threatened to release it publicly if she spoke of their relationship.

Eric Greitens declined to testify in his defense but made his cellphone available to police, who found no evidence that a photo was taken.

In an audio recording made days after the encounter, the woman agreed when an acquaintance asked whether she had been “half-raped and blackmailed,” according to a bipartisan report written by the Republican-held Missouri House. “Yes,” she said.

She later told House investigators, when asked whether she consented to sex, that “it felt like consent, but, no, I didn’t want to do it.”

A prosecution for invasion of privacy based on the photo allegation later fell apart, with the lead investigator being charged with lying in a deposition and the prosecutor being referred for a disciplinary hearing.

Trump told the Washington Examiner on March 15, before Sheena Greitens’s legal filing, that he still planned to endorse in the Missouri Senate race and that Greitens was still in the running for his seal of approval.

Mike DeBonis, Brooke Muckerman, Scott Farwell and Alice Crites contributed to this report.