When it comes to Gov. Eric Greitens’ legal troubles, the split among Missouri Republicans was obvious Monday during back-to-back news conferences.
Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican from Poplar Bluff, announced that he has set up a bipartisan committee to investigate the issues surrounding the governor’s indictment Thursday for allegedly taking a photo of a partially nude woman without her consent.
Right after the speaker’s brief event, two St. Louis area lawmakers held a rival news conference that urged the governor to resign.
The speaker-appointed committee will be led by state Rep. Jay Barnes, a Republican from Jefferson City who was among the early supporters of Greitens, who was elected in 2016.
Barnes said the panel will investigate in “a thorough and timely manner.”
Greitens has acknowledged that he engaged in an affair with the woman in 2015, but has denied breaking any laws.
The House panel could be the first step in a process leading to possible impeachment. “We will make a determination based on where the facts lead us,’’ said Barnes, who is an attorney.
Aside from Barnes, the panel’s members are:
- Rep. Donald Phillips, R-Kimberling City – Vice-Chair
- Rep. Kevin Austin, R-Springfield
- Rep. Shawn Rhoads, R-West Plains
- Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs
- Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis
- Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis
Mitten, a lawyer, said in an interview, "These are very serious accusations ... I hope that this committee conducts itself appropriately and professionally, and that there is cooperation from the witnesses called."
Neither Barnes nor Speaker Richardson would comment on any specific aspects of the case, or from whom they might seek testimony. They did say there’s no specific deadline for gathering information, but that the committee will issue a report with a recommendation on whether the House should move to impeach Greitens.
Dissidents accuse governor of lying
Meanwhile, state Reps. Shamed Dogan of Ballwin and Marsha Haefner of Oakville said it was time for swift action — and that Greitens has demonstrated that he is not worthy to remain as governor.
The two are circulating a letter calling for the governor to step down. About a dozen House members have signed the letter so far, they said. The duo declined to identify the signers but said they may make the names public later.
The two said that Greitens’ legal troubles are hurting fellow Republicans and paralyzing state government.
Haefner, who had called for Greitens to resign weeks ago, said she feared that the issue will drag on for months.
“Everywhere I go, people are telling me we hope this ends quickly, that it’s an embarrassment to the state and that we need to move forward,” she said. “It is time-consuming for all of us to have to answer all these questions and focus on this instead of other work.”
Dogan contended that Greitens had lied weeks ago when he had implied to lawmakers that there was no such photograph of the woman. Dogan said the governor’s legal team is now making clear with their actions that such a photo was taken.
Both said they were circulating the letter with “heavy hearts.”
House backs stiffer penalties for “revenge porn”
Regardless of their views on Greitens’ future, House members appear to be of one mind when it comes to the photo-taking that he’s accused of.
The House voted overwhelmingly, with only one dissent, to give final approval to a bill that imposes stiffer penalties for “nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images.”
The indictment of Greitens alleges that he electronically stored the woman’s semi-nude or nude photograph in such a way that it could be disseminated online.
The House bill now goes to the Senate.
Greitens could face more troubles
St. Louis prosecutors say it is possible that Greitens may face more charges beyond invasion of privacy.
The information came during a meeting Monday of prosecutors and Greitens’ defense team to discuss a possible trial date.
Defense attorneys want the case to go in front of a jury as fast as possible. Prosecutors say they are unlikely to be ready by May, and are suggesting a date in late summer or early fall.
It will be up to St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison to make the final decision.
Greitens also doubled-down Monday on his accusations that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, was playing politics because she oversaw the grand jury that issued the indictment.
The governor’s campaign operation sent out a statement accusing Gardner of being “in search of a crime.” The campaign also alleged that she was being influenced by wealthy Democratic donor George Soros, whose super Pac donated about $200,000 to Gardner’s earlier campaigns.
St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann contributed information for this article.