By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – Missouri’s attorney general called on Governor Eric Greitens, a fellow Republican, to resign on Wednesday, saying the findings of a newly released state legislative report on the sex scandal embroiling Greitens are grounds for his impeachment.
Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Claire McCaskill, said the report “contains shocking, substantial and corroborated evidence of wrongdoing” by the 44-year-old governor.
Greitens, who is charged with criminal invasion of privacy in connection with an admitted extramarital affair in 2015, before his election, said earlier on Wednesday that he was determined to stay in office while fighting to clear his name in court.
Greitens, a former U.S. Navy SEAL elected in 2016, told a news conference in Jefferson City, the state capital, he was the victim of a “political witch hunt” stemming from a “private mistake” that had nothing to do with his job as governor.
Under mounting pressure from Missouri politicians in both parties to step aside in recent weeks, Greitens said shortly before the legislative report was made public that he would persevere.
“I will continue to serve the people of Missouri as their governor and to work for you every day,” he said. He denounced the findings of the special legislative panel as “one-sided tabloid trash gossip that was produced in a secret report.”
Greitens was indicted in February on a single felony count of invasion of privacy – an offense carrying a maximum penalty of four years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
He is accused of taking a compromising photograph of the woman in question without her consent, then making it accessible by computer to use as blackmail against any attempt she might make at disclosing their relationship.
In a statement issued after Hawley’s call for him to step down, Greitens repeated his assertion that his relationship with the woman, identified in the indictment only as K.S., was “entirely consensual,” adding that “any allegation of violence or sexual assault is false.”
He also has denied trying to blackmail the woman or engaging in any other criminal behavior to keep their months-long affair confidential.
The woman at the center of the scandal is known publicly only as a hair stylist who said she met Greitens who was a customer at the salon where she worked. She was referred to as “Witness 1” in the 24-page report from the bipartisan special committee of the Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives.
In sworn testimony to the seven-member panel cited in the document, she described her first liaison with Greitens as a menacing, “coerced” sexual encounter in his basement in which he blindfolded her and ripped off her clothes without her consent before snapping her picture, which she said he threatened to use against her if she ever went public.
“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,” she quoted him to the committee as telling her at the time.
She testified that she ultimately agreed to perform oral sex on Greitens in order to get the situation over with so she could leave, saying the interaction left her frightened, humiliated and “disgusted.” But she acknowledged consenting to several more sexual encounters over the next few months before finally insisting that they cease any further contact.
A trial for the invasion-of-privacy case is scheduled to open next month. On Tuesday, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison imposed a partial gag order on attorneys, witnesses and other parties to the criminal case.
Burlison indicated that he had no power over state legislators, who “have their jobs and their authority,” but hoped “consideration is being given to any … defendant’s rights to have a fair trial in front of an impartial jury,” according to a transcript released by the defense.
(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Darren Schuettler)