A St. Louis grand jury indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Thursday for felony invasion of privacy, possibly jeopardizing his tenure in office as legislative leaders said they'd begin an investigation. Impeachment talk began to circle the Statehouse.
The charge was announced by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner, who has been investigating Greitens since last month's disclosure of a 2015 extramarital affair. The Republican allegedly took a picture of his lover, who was nude and blindfolded, and then threatened to use it against her if she exposed their relationship.
Greitens was taken into custody in St. Louis, then booked at and released from the St. Louis Justice Center, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“The law makes it a felony if a person transmits the image contained in the photograph or film in a manner that allows access to that image via a computer,” Gardner said in a statement. “As I have stated before, it is essential for residents of the City of St. Louis and our state to have confidence in their leaders. They must know that the Office of the Circuit Attorney will hold public officials accountable in the same manner as any other resident of our city."
"Both parties and the people of St. Louis deserve a thorough investigation of these allegations.”
Greitens' attorney, Edward L. Dowd Jr., said in a statement that the charges are "baseless and unfounded." The Associated Press reported that a motion was filed to dismiss the indictment because the relationship was consensual.
Greitens himself said on Facebook that the indictment was a "disappointing and misguided political decision" by a "reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points."
"This will not for a moment deter me from doing the important work of the great people of Missouri," he said.
House GOP leaders, including Speaker Todd Richardson of Poplar Bluff, said in a statement that the chamber will look at the facts and begin an investigation.
A Republican member of the Missouri House, who didn’t want to be identified because of a politically divisive environment, told KCUR that “if the facts are accurate,” the House will move toward impeachment.
“If this were a Democrat, we would already have gotten rid of him through impeachment,” the legislator says. “It’s hypocritical” not to do this.
The legislator also says Gardner, who is a former state legislator, may have credibility problems with some Republicans.
“There is a worry, founded or not, that a St. Louis City Democrat has conducted this investigation. She was in the Legislature. Was she doing this for political purposes or acting like a prosecutor acts?” the legislator says.
Senate Democratic Leader Gina Walsh issued a statement Thursday.
“Right now, my thoughts are with the women and families whose lives are forever changed because of Eric Greitens’ behavior and actions,” the Bellefontaine Neighbors legislator says. “Too often, women in our state and nation are subject to intimidation, threats and even violence at the hands of those in power. No more. It’s time our state takes a stand and ensures that women everywhere are able to seek the justice and equality they rightfully deserve.”
The charge is a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, if a photo is taken without consent and in a way that could be accessed by computer. If that isn't the case, the charge would be considered a misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail.
Greitens previously has denied that he photographed the woman, but acknowledges the affair happened before he campaign for governor. He has called it a “deeply personal mistake” that he and his wife have worked through.
St. Louis TV station KMOV revealed the affair in January, after the ex-husband of the woman, a hair stylist, gave the station a secretly recorded conversation in which his then-wife revealed to him what happened. Several legislators, including members of his own party, have called for Greitens’ resignation. He has refused to step down.
The first-term governor, a former Navy SEAL, took office in January 2017 after campaigning as a conservative outsider and scoring a victory over then-Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies. Brian Ellison is host of KCUR's Statehouse Blend Missouri podcast and reports on Missouri politics and government. Follow him on Twitter @ptsbrian.