With political career on virtual life support, some wonder how long Greitens can hang on
Members of the Missouri House delivered a big blow to Gov. Eric Greitens this month when they released a startling report on the GOP chief executive’s conduct. The details prompted some on both sides of the aisle to call on Greitens to resign, a demand the governor resisted.
Then came the following week, which featured a full collapse of Greitens’ political support and darkening cloud of legal developments.
Questions about The Mission Continues fundraising list. An unprecedented call from the General Assembly’s legislative leaders to resign. A judge’s decision not to throw out his felony invasion of privacy case. And finally on Friday afternoon, another felony charge from St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
It’s a dizzying spectacle leaving some Republicans wondering how many more hits Greitens can take if he doesn’t step down, a trajectory that will almost surely lead to his impeachment.
Greitens, though, is steadfastly refusing to leave behind the governorship — once assumed as his springboard to national office.
"I will not be resigning the governor's office,” Greitens said in a statement last week before he was charged on Friday. “In three weeks, this matter will go to a court of law — where it belongs and where the facts will prove my innocence. Until then, I will do what the people of Missouri sent me here to do: to serve them and work hard on their behalf."
To be sure, Greitens still has passionate supporters. But the incessant drama is becoming exhausting for longtime Republican activists. And the longer the uncertainty stretches out, the worse things likely get for the GOP.
“I pray for a speedy resolution for whatever the outcome is going to be,” said Chris Grahn-Howard, a longtime Republican activist in St. Louis County, last Tuesday. “I think that is what’s best for the state, I think that’s what’s best for the people and I definitely think that’s best for the Republican Party. I don’t know how much more water he can take on and remain viable.”
For some, the fact that Greitens is still in office is surprising.
Few political figures would stick around after admitting to an extramarital affair, let alone a bombshell House report that painted the former Navy SEAL as sexually and physically abusive. After last week, Greitens will face felony charges for allegedly illegally obtaining a fundraising list from the veterans charity he co-founded — which prompted House Speaker Todd Richardson and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard to call for the governor’s resignation.
Greitens has brushed off calls for his resignation. After he was charged with felony tampering with computer data on Friday, he said in a statement "when I have my day in court, I will clear my name. People will know the truth." He's also called some of the alarming allegations in the House report "lies" and characterized his plight as a "witch hunt."
“I don’t know if it’s Navy SEAL mentality that you just keep going and going and going — and you just never give up,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, this month. “Or if it’s just that he has this self-interest of wanting to continue to go, thinking that the wave will pass and that he can get through it. I think he’s self-serving.”
Richardson’s resignation statement is especially significant, because he commands enough respect from both Republicans and Democrats to get at least a majority of House members to vote for impeachment. If that happens, the Senate would pick a panel of judges that would decide whether Greitens stays or goes.
It’s not out of the question that Greitens’ troubles could be getting worse.
In April 2017, the governor signed a “consent order’’ with the Missouri Ethics Commission in which he acknowledged that his campaign had obtained The Mission Continues donor list in early 2015 with the aim of soliciting campaign contributions.
The order stated that all the parties agreed with the commission’s conclusion that “there was reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of law occurred.” The consent order identified former Greitens campaign manager Danny Laub as the person who had received the list. But the order does not specify who actually obtained the list from The Mission Continues.
Greitens could end up in more legal trouble if he signed the consent order knowing that it contained false information. However, the order was written very broadly, so it may be difficult for critics to find any falsehoods
Whether Greitens’ troubles end up engulfing the last few weeks of the Missouri General Assembly session remain to be seen. Richardson said this month that lawmakers were poised to call themselves into special session to possibly consider impeachment. Some, including many Democrats and Senate Leader Richard, want that process to begin immediately.
"I think everybody wants this process to resolve itself as quickly as it can," Richardson said during his Thursday press availability. "What I don't want to have happen is an artificial deadline that causes our committee to have to work with undue haste."
But Republicans are clearly worried that Greitens will end up hurting their chances at the polls — especially when it comes to a nationally-watched U.S. Senate contest.
That race could feature Attorney General Hawley squaring off against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. And Hawley's news conference last week announcing evidence to implicate Greitens in the fundraising list case prompted a tart response from the governor — and a request for a restraining order in court. Greitens is asking a judge to block Hawley from investigating him because Hawley has called for the governor to resign.
It also opened up questions from Democrats like McCaskill about why Hawley didn’t act earlier, especially with a statute of limitations deadline.
“When a real prosecutor is flooding the zone with subpoenas and investigators, he sits up and says ‘well, I’m looking into the charity,’” McCaskill said during a March speech in Hannibal. “Kind of shamed into it.”
Hawley, for his part, has said he moved in “no-holds barred” fashion in the case. GOP political consultant Gregg Keller said President Donald Trump’s popularity, rather than Greitens, will play a bigger role in the U.S. Senate contest.
But Keller said Greitens is probably not helping Hawley's cause.
“I think that the overall political environment nationally is going to go a long way toward deciding which way this Missouri Senate race goes,” said Keller, who didn’t back Greitens in the 2016 gubernatorial primaries. “I think Eric Greitens can not prop up Josh Hawley at this point. I think he can only serve to drag him down. I think Josh is a good lawyer and a good attorney general, and he’s going to go where the facts lead him.”
Keller, though, said it’s not just Hawley who should be worried about Greitens’ impact.
State Senate races where Republicans should be ahead, he said, are tied. And in contests that should be tied, he added, GOP candidates that are losing.
“It is the first off-year of having our guy in the White House. Historically that’s not good time,” Keller said. “And you can’t make any argument other than Greitens is a big drag on Republicans.”
If Keller's observations turn out to be apt, it may be one of a few reasons why some Republicans hope Greitens changes his mind about staying in office. Right now, Greitens is standing firm.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.
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