JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Eric Greitens was a busy man in spring 2015.
He was launching a gubernatorial campaign by calling donors to a veterans’ charity he founded. He was promoting his new book “Resilience” with the help of a university-administered grant. And he was initiating an extramarital affair.
Three years later, Greitens’ ambitious spring has grown into a mountain of troubles towering over Missouri government and politics that has overshadowed the annual legislative session and altered the narrative of a pivotal U.S. Senate race.
Greitens gets his first chance at vindication — or a prison sentence — when he goes to trial this week on a felony invasion of privacy indictment alleging he took and transmitted a nonconsensual photo of a woman after binding her hands, blindfolding her and removing her clothes in the basement of his St. Louis home on March 21, 2015.
The first-term Republican governor, who had presidential aspirations, has acknowledged having an “entirely consensual relationship” with his former hairdresser a year before his 2016 election. But he has denied criminal wrongdoing while portraying himself as the victim of a “political witch hunt” — a phrase that has resonated with some of his supporters.
Regardless of the outcome of this week’s trial, Missouri lawmakers are to convene Friday evening for a historic 30-day special session to consider whether to impeach Greitens in an attempt to remove him from office.
And regardless of the outcome of any impeachment proceeding, Greitens faces another trial at a yet-to-be-determined date on a felony charge of tampering with computer data. That charge alleges Greitens disclosed a donor list of The Mission Continues to his political fundraiser in April 2015 without the permission of the St. Louis-based veterans’ charity.
Greitens initially denied working off the charity’s donor list when The Associated Press first reported in October 2016 that his campaign had obtained it. But the governor subsequently acknowledged doing so, and his attorney has suggested Greitens was entitled to use it.
Authorities are reviewing whether to bring yet another charge against Greitens after a former political aide testified to the attorney general’s office that Greitens filed Missouri Ethics Commission documents in April 2017 falsely attributing the source of the charity donor list.
An investigation by a special House committee has turned up even more allegations against Greitens, including that he forcefully slapped and shoved the woman with whom he was having an affair. Officials have not released the woman’s name.
Even Greitens’ book has come under fresh scrutiny. Washington University in St. Louis is reviewing whether Greitens’ grant funds were misused after political aide Danny Laub testified that he was paid both by Greitens and the grant to simultaneously promote Greitens’ political ambitions and book.
Greitens has refused bipartisan calls to resign from state legislative leaders. He’s drawn parallels between the accusations against himself and those facing Republican President Donald Trump. And he’s turned to social media to rally support.
The strategy has worked, at least among some.
“He made a bad choice by his infidelity,” said Clay County resident Patsy Steelman Clark, who responded to the AP after posting on Greitens’ Facebook page that the charges against him were “fake news” and “nonsense.”
But “I know in my heart that he did nothing criminal,” Clark told the AP in a direct message. “This is a witch hunt and it’s obvious. The Governor and our President are in the same boat that the Liberals/Democrats are trying to knock holes in.”
Yet some prominent Republicans have turned against Greitens, including state Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is seeking to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in an election that could help determine whether Republicans maintain control of the chamber.
Hawley called on Greitens to resign after the House released a report about his alleged sexual misconduct. He also supplied evidence to St. Louis prosecutors leading to the criminal charge of misusing the charity donor list.
Despite Hawley’s denouncement of Greitens, Democrats have run TV ads linking the two GOP politicians who won election as political outsiders. Republican consultants fear Greitens’ troubles could taint GOP candidates in the November election.
“He is a divisive figure in the grass roots of the Republican base,” said John Hancock, a former Missouri Republican Party chairman. “You’ve got some out there who think he’s being railroaded and witch hunted, and you’ve got some out there who think he has broken his public trust and shouldn’t be in office any longer.”
Hancock added: “My contention is if he is no longer in office, then time and distance will minimize greatly any effect he will have in November.”
A bipartisan petition calling a special session on disciplining Greitens was signed by 139 of the 161 House members and 29 of the 33 senators. Greitens could face impeachment even if he is acquitted at his criminal trial, though it could be a more politically difficult task. Impeachment requires support from 82 House members. The Senate then would select seven judges to preside over a trial on whether to remove Greitens from office.
Even as lawmakers have moved forward with their regular work — including passing a .3 billion budget — Greitens’ troubles have been the subject of nearly daily discussions in the Capitol. It’s to the point that one frequent Greitens’ critic bemoaned during a recent Senate session that she had grown weary of it all.
“I am so, so tired of reading about Greitens and the scandals — scandal after scandal after scandal,” Democratic state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said. “I am like Greitens-fatigued right now.”