JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens faced mounting calls to resign Thursday following allegations of unwanted sexual aggression toward a woman, but his defense attorneys argued that a criminal indictment against him should be dismissed because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
The developments came a day after a special legislative committee released a graphic report in which a woman testified that Greitens spanked, slapped, grabbed, shoved and threatened her during a series of sexual encounters in 2015 that at times left her crying and afraid. Greitens has insisted that their relationship was consensual and the allegations of violence are false.
The committee’s investigation of Greitens began after he was charged in St. Louis with a felony indictment of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking and transmitting a nonconsensual photo of the woman while she was partially nude.
In court Thursday, his attorneys asserted that the St. Louis prosecutors’ office had engaged in misconduct and potentially perjury by initially saying that a video recorder had malfunctioned during a March interview of the woman. Greitens’ attorneys say prosecutors shared the video with them Wednesday night — only after the release of the Legislature’s report — and that the woman’s testimony in the video backs up Greitens’ claim of a consensual encounter.
“This woman is not a victim,” Greitens’ attorney Jim Martin said. “She was a willing participant in everything they did, and the video goes a long way to establish that.”
St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison made no immediate ruling on the request to dismiss the case.
The woman’s attorney, Scott Simpson, declined to comment on the defense team’s assertions about what is in the video, citing a gag order in the criminal case.
At the Missouri Capitol, pressure was mounting on Greitens, 44, to step down before his scheduled May 14 trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe became the highest-ranking state lawmaker calling for his immediate resignation.
“Should the governor choose not to resign, I am persuaded that he has not only burned bridges, he has blown them up to where it will be impossible for him to effectively lead the state going forward,” Kehoe said in a statement.
Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, whom Hawley is challenging, also have both called on Greitens to step down.
But Greitens is vowing to remain in office and prove his innocence against allegations that he denounced as “lies and falsehoods.”
“This is a political witch hunt,” Greitens told reporters Wednesday, invoking one of President Donald Trump’s favored criticisms of unwanted investigations. He later added: “This is exactly like what’s happening with the witch hunts in Washington, D.C.”
The special House committee is to recommend after the legislative session ends May 18 whether to pursue impeachment. Legislative leaders said they will call themselves into a special session.
The legislative report released Wednesday was signed by all five Republicans and two Democrats on the committee. It describes the woman’s testimony as credible and notes that Greitens has so far declined to testify or provide documents to the panel.
The woman told the committee Greitens took a photo of her after manipulating her into a compromising position during an unwanted sexual encounter in his home and told her “everyone will know what a little whore you are” if she told anyone about him.
Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson called the woman’s testimony “beyond disturbing” and defended the integrity of the investigation. He said: “Let me be very clear about this: This is not a witch hunt, and the committee had no political agenda.”
If the House were to impeach Greitens, the Senate then would choose seven jurists to conduct a trial on whether Greitens should be ousted. The impeachment process can occur independently of a criminal case.
According to the report, the woman testified that she met Greitens in 2013 as a customer of her hair salon. She said she had a crush on Greitens but was shocked when he ran his hand up her leg and touched her crotch without her consent during a March 2015 hair appointment. He later invited her to his St. Louis home while his wife was out of town.
After she arrived through the back door, the report said that the woman testified Greitens searched her purse and “patted her down from head-to-toe.” He then asked if she had exercised and had her change into a white T-shirt with a slit on the top and pajama pants.
“I thought, oh, this is going to be some sort of sexy workout,” the woman testified.
But once in his basement, Greitens taped her hands to pull-up rings, blindfolded her, started kissing her, ripped open the shirt and pulled down her pants, the woman testified. She didn’t give consent to be disrobed or kissed, the report said. The woman testified that she then heard a click, like of a cellphone picture, and saw a flash.
The woman testified that Greitens told her: “Don’t even mention my name to anybody at all, because if you do, I’m going to take these pictures, and I’m going to put them everywhere I can. They are going to be everywhere, and then everyone will know what a little whore you are.”
When she remained silent, the woman said Greitens “spanked me and said, ‘Are you going to mention my name?’ And I said, I just gritted through my teeth, and I said, ‘No.’ And he’s like, ‘Good, now that’s a good girl.'”
“I was definitely fearful,” the woman testified to the legislative committee.
After telling Greitens, “I don’t want this,” the woman testified that Greitens unbound her hands. She said she started “uncontrollably crying.” She said Greitens then grabbed her in a hug and laid her down. She said he put his penis near her face and she gave him oral sex. Asked by the committee whether the oral sex was coerced, she responded: “Coerced, maybe. I felt as though that would allow me to leave.”
The woman testified that she confronted him later that day about the photo and he responded: “You have to understand, I’m running for office, and people will get me, and I have to have some sort of thing to protect myself.” Then she said Greitens added: “I felt bad, so I erased it.”
The House committee report said it doesn’t possess any physical or electronic evidence of the photo. Prosecutors in his criminal case previously acknowledged that they don’t have the photo, though they could be trying to obtain it.
The woman’s name never has been officially released; it is redacted from the legislative documents and she is identified only by her initials in court filings. Her attorney has repeatedly sought anonymity on her behalf.
The woman testified to the committee that she had several additional sexual encounters with Greitens, including one in June 2015 when “he slapped me across my face” after she acknowledged having slept with her husband. She said she “felt like he was trying to claim me.”
In another subsequent sexual encounter, the woman testified that Greitens “out of nowhere just, like kind of smacked me and grabbed me and shoved me down on the ground, and I instantly just started bawling.”
It “actually hurt, and I know that I actually was really scared and sad when that happened,” she testified.
The woman’s account contradicts statements Greitens made previously. Asked in a January interview with The Associated Press if he had ever slapped the woman, Greitens responded: “Absolutely not.”
Greitens said in a statement Wednesday night: “This was an entirely consensual relationship, and any allegation of violence or sexual assault is false.”
Associated Press reporters Blake Nelson in Jefferson City, Jim Salter in St. Louis and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.