Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced Tuesday that he will resign amid explosive personal and political scandals that marred his once-promising career in public office and threatened to drag down the Republican Party in the midterm elections.
Under state law, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, also a Republican, will take over as governor and serve out the remainder of the term. He would face voters in 2020 if he decided to seek a full term.
Missouri Republicans looked to quickly turn the page on an embarrassing saga that loomed over their campaign efforts ahead of the November midterms. The U.S. Senate race in Missouri is a key contest in the fight for the Senate majority.
Democrats have been seeking to use Greitens’s troubles to undermine the Republican front-runner for Senate, state Attorney General Josh Hawley. They signaled Tuesday that they would not let up, even after Greitens steps aside.
Greitens has faced allegations that he initiated unwanted sexual contact with a woman who worked as his hairdresser and improperly used a charity donor list. State lawmakers called a special session this month to consider impeaching Greitens.
Last month, Greitens was charged with two felony counts of computer tampering stemming from allegations that he used a veterans charity donor list to raise money for his 2016 campaign for governor without the permission of the group, which he founded.
For months, Republicans and Democrats have called on Greitens to step down. But he defied their calls and cast himself as the target of an unjust political attack. In stepping down Tuesday, he presented himself as a victim, despite criticism he has received from across the political spectrum.
“This ordeal has been designed to cause an incredible amount of strain on my family; millions of dollars of mounting legal bills, endless personal attacks designed to cause maximum damage to family and friends,” Greitens said in his statement.
After state lawmakers released a report alleging the unwanted sexual contact, Greitens said that he was the target of a “witch hunt,” using the same language President Trump has used to describe a Justice Department probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The lawmakers launched their inquiry after allegations that Greitens had photographed the woman naked without her consent. A St. Louis prosecutor brought a felony invasion-of-privacy charge against him. The case was later dismissed, but a special prosecutor was brought in to examine the matter.
Greitens has admitted that he had an extramarital affair. But he has long asserted that he committed no crimes.
In a statement after his announcement, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who brought the charges against him, said she has “been in contact” with the governor’s legal team over the past few days and “reached a fair and just resolution of the pending charges.”
She added: “We will provide more information tomorrow.”
Elected to his first term in 2016, the 44-year-old Greitens was once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party who might one day run for national office. He had the kind of sterling credentials that make political operatives giddy: He is a former Navy SEAL who once worked with Mother Teresa.
But his relationship with Republicans in the state legislature was rocky. And the personal and political scandals have overshadowed everything else he has tried to do this year.
They have also hung like a dark cloud over the Senate race, in which Republicans are trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Party leaders have rallied around Hawley, who distanced himself from Greitens and initiated his own investigation into Greitens’s former charity.
With about five months until the election, they are hoping to turn the page.
“Governor Greitens has done the right thing today. I wish incoming Governor Mike Parson well, and stand ready to assist him in his transition. This Office’s work for the people of Missouri goes forward,” Hawley said in a tweet.
“The governor made the best decision for his family and the state. I look forward to Gov. Parson’s leadership and will do everything I can to be helpful,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
But a spokesman for Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group allied with McCaskill, took a shot at Hawley, saying that he was slow to investigate Greitens And Democrats in the state sought to ensure that voters do not quickly forget the soon-to-be former governor.
“Missouri Democrats will continue to work to undo the damage done by Eric Greitens and his Republican cronies,” said Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber.