Republican leaders of the General Assembly will employ a never-used power to convene a special session later this year to consider whether to impeach Gov. Eric Greitens or impose some lesser discipline, House Speaker Todd Richardson said Wednesday.
Richardson, speaking after the release a 24-page report on Greitens by a special investigative committee, said there is not enough time before the May 18 adjournment of the regular session to deal with the charges against Greitens. The House Special Investigative Committee will continue its work and make recommendations near the end of the session, Richardson said.
The entire Republican leadership of both chambers agreed a special session should be called, Richardson said.
Impeachment is “one of the most serious and consequential powers the constitution grants the legislature,” Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said. “We will not act rashly but we will not shrink from it.”
Democrats in the House, however, said there is no reason to delay. House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said at a news conference that there is nothing the legislature has left to do that is more important than removing Greitens from office.
“It is clear to me that this governor must resign and if he fails to do so we should begin impeachment proceedings,” she said.
Greitens has been embroiled in scandal since January, when KMOV television in St. Louis broadcast the first report alleging he had an extramarital affair in 2015 while planning his campaign for governor. The report, using an audio recording of the woman involved made by her then-husband, accused Greitens of photographing the woman while she was blindfolded and threatening to make the image public if she revealed their relationship.
Greitens is now under indictment in St. Louis for felony invasion of privacy. His trial is set for May 14. He has admitted to the affair, but has denied criminal wrongdoing.
“In just 33 days a court of law and a jury of my peers will let every person in Missouri know the truth and prove my innocence,” Greitens said as he read a statement to reporters Wednesday before the report’s release. He did not answer questions.
The power for lawmakers to call themselves into special session was added to the Missouri Constitution in 1988 and requires three-fourths of the members of both bodies – 121 in the Missouri House and 26 in the Senate – to sign a petition calling it into session.
Greitens, a Republican, made a pre-emptive strike against the report by making a statement to reporters in his capitol office. He repeated his assertion that the investigation is a “witch hunt” and that the committee doesn’t want to listen to the truth.
“We expect that tonight’s report will be full of more false, outlandish and salacious details,” Greitens said. “Keep in mind how this was written — no standards of evidence were used, no witnesses were cross-examined, no one representing me was allowed in the room and no members of the press or the public were allowed in the room.”
The report was signed by all seven members of the committee led by state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.
“The committee operated under significant time and resource constraints pursuant to the resolution,” the report states. “The committee also notes that Greitens has declined to participate in this fact-finding process at this time. Greitens declined to provide the requested testimony, documents, and sworn answers to interrogatories.”
Greitens has now waived his right to testify, the report states. “Thus, to the extent this report does not include Greitens’ perspective, that is the result of his choice not to participate.”
Richardson defended the committee’s work and said it was an impartial, bipartisan panel.
“Let me be very clear about this — this is not a witch hunt,” Richardson said. “The committee had no political agenda. This report does not pass judgment on the governor’s guilt or innocence. That is appropriately for the courts and a jury to decide
Before the report was made public, lawmakers who do not sit on the committee were briefed on it in closed Democratic and Republican caucuses. Numerous lawmakers said it proves disgusting behavior and that he should resign.
“Let me be clear, Greitens is scum,” state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, tweeted.
Explaining the tweet, Kendrick said he is mild-mannered and does not like to make unnecessary controversy.
“I don’t say something like that without meaning it, truly,” Kendrick said. “The guy is scum. His response to the report is dishonorable. It is disgusting in my opinion.”
State Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, said in a statement posted on her Facebook page that the report describes “very disturbing and graphic allegations regarding Governor Greitens” and that she supported the plan to hold a special session.
U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, issued a statement from Washington saying the report “surpasses disturbing.” Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said in a statement that Greitens should resign.
In the report, the woman involved, who met Greitens when she styled his hair, told the committee that she felt coerced to give him oral sex in order to be allowed to leave his home during the first time they were alone. The key to the criminal charge against Greitens is that he took a photo of her while she was partially naked and transmitted it electronically in a way that could allow it to be viewed by others online.
The woman said during a deposition that her memory of it was hazy and that she hadn’t talked about it because she might have remembered it as a dream. Greitens seized on that at his news conference, saying it shows the entire case is tainted.
The report said the committee found the woman to be “an overall credible witness.” The committee stated it had not seen a photograph and did “not possess any physical or electronic evidence of a photograph or its transmission.”
In her statements to the committee, the woman said she left her keys and had to return to Greitens’ home to retrieve them. They discussed the photograph.
“And he said, ‘I know ... but 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. And I thought about you, though, and I felt bad, so I erased it.’ To which — you know, I didn’t believe him, but at least, he, like, acknowledged that it was messed up and had a reason why,” the woman told the committee.
Earlier, she said, when she tried to leave Greitens put her in a bear hug and fondled her while she was crying and upset. They were lying on the basement floor, she said, and he pushed his penis toward her face.
She said she knew he expected oral sex. She said she performed the sex act because she was fearful she would not be allowed to leave unless she did so.
The reports details, while salacious at times, are necessary to show Greitens’ behavior, McCann Beatty said.
“It was horrifying,” she said. “It was horrifying that anyone should have to go through something like that and he clearly used his power to manipulate her.”