JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The political future of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens faces a big test when a special legislative committee issues an investigative report related to an extramarital affair the Republican engaged in before his election.
The report, along with the governor’s pending criminal trial on a felony indictment related to the affair, and an investigation by fellow Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley into the activities of a veterans charity founded by Greitens, have created challenges and uncertainty for the former Navy SEAL officer once considered presidential material. He went so far as to reserve the web address ericgreitensforpresident.com years ago.
Greitens’ spokesman Parker Briden in an email told The Associated Press that the governor’s administration has been “operating as normal.”
But Republican consultant John Hancock said the “constant retelling of the underlying facts of the affair has had a debilitating effect on the governor, as it would any elected official.”
It was just hours after his State of the State speech in January that Greitens released a statement admitting to the affair with his St. Louis hairdresser that began and ended in 2015. The statement came after the hairdresser’s ex-husband released to a St. Louis TV station audio that he secretly recorded of the woman discussing the affair with him.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner launched an investigation over an allegation that Greitens tried to blackmail the woman into silence by threatening to release a photo he allegedly took of her without her consent while she was blindfolded and partially nude.
A grand jury in February indicted Greitens on one felony count of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking and transmitting the photo. The case goes to trial May 14.
Scott Simpson, an attorney for the woman, said this week that Greitens has told his client on multiple occasions that he photographed her without her consent and threatened to release the image if she told anyone about their relationship.
Greitens’ supporters have called the criminal case a political witch hunt.
In March, a special House legislative committee launched its own investigation, a potential precursor to impeachment proceedings. The House said in a news release that the report will be released Wednesday. Greitens’ lawyers have repeatedly asked to delay the report, publicizing a series of critical letters and court documents to reporters as the expected release date approached in an effort to portray it as inaccurate and potentially damaging to the governor’s right to a fair trial.
Separately, Hawley is investigating The Mission Continues, the veterans charity founded by Greitens, as it relates to the state’s consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting laws.
With so much swirling around Greitens personally, Republican legislative leaders have issued assurances that they’ll continue with business as usual despite potential turmoil in the governor’s office.
“No matter how things go, we’ll have a very good steady leadership in both chambers,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe said last week.
While Briden said the governor continues to work with lawmakers to pass his agenda, Greitens has played a less antagonistic role in the Legislature this year.
During his first year in office, Greitens issued personal attacks against state senators who went against his will on policy, called the Legislature back for two special sessions, angered senators for his role in stacking numerous boards and commissions with his appointees and at one point compared lawmakers to third-graders.
Greitens’ swaggering public persona has changed since the scandal broke, University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist Dave Robertson said.
“The aggressiveness has been tempered substantially and he’s gone from playing offense to playing defense,” Robertson said.
Still, Robertson said the already chilly relationship between Greitens and many of his Republican colleagues could haunt the governor.
“I would say that the obvious inability in the current climate, which is so highly polarized, to keep members of your party rallying behind you, particularly in the Legislature, is a very bad sign for someone who wants to govern effectively, create a record, and perhaps move on to another office,” he said.