MO Gov Hunkers Down, Commits To Staying In Office Amid Blackmail Probe

Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens walk through the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. A St. Louis County attorney filed a lawsuit last week accusing Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff of engaging in an ongoing conspiracy to violate Missouri's open records laws by using an app that deletes text messages after they've been read. (J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Tribune News Service

In the wake of explosive allegations that he slapped and attempted to blackmail a woman with whom he carried out an extramarital affair, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is keeping his head down and quietly rallying supporters.

Greitens, who has admitted to the affair but strongly denied the blackmail and slapping allegations, has made no public remarks or appearances since the scandal broke Wednesday night. His often-busy Twitter feed has fallen silent.

In a Thursday call with campaign contributors, first reported by the Washington Examiner, the governor, joined by his wife Sheena, said he planned to ride out the scandal. The couple spent the rest of the afternoon dialing Missouri Senate and House lawmakers to deny the allegations, CNN reported.

State Sen. Gary Romine told CNN that the couple informed him that “no additional stories” about the governor would come to light. A State House Republican said Greitens blamed the scandal on “liberal media and Democrats trying to destroy him.”

In 2015, Greitens took a naked picture of a woman with whom he was having an affair and told her he’d use it to blackmail her if she revealed the relationship, according to comments the woman made on an audiotape recorded by her then-husband. TPM reported Thursday that, months later, the woman told her husband that Greitens slapped her when she told him she’d slept with her husband.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced Thursday afternoon that she’d opened an investigation into the claims.

The scandal broke immediately following Greitens’ State of the State address. Soon after, Greitens issued a joint statement with his wife acknowledging the affair occurred. But the governor has offered no firsthand response to the blackmail and slapping allegations.

Instead, Greitens has been letting his private attorney, Jim Bennett, handle the media fallout. Bennett has adamantly denied the blackmail and slapping accounts, and has framed the scandal as a politically-motivated effort to tear down Greitens, who was previously viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party.

In addition to the Circuit Attorney’s probe, Al Watkins, the lawyer for the ex-husband of the woman who was having the affair, told TPM that he’s been in ongoing contact with the FBI, as well.

Watkins told TPM that he’s been “receiving ongoing consistent contact from a special agent” with the bureau since October 2016.

The St. Louis office of the FBI declined to confirm to TPM whether any investigation into Greitens existed.

Both members of the couple have requested anonymity to protect their family’s privacy, and the woman has not yet given any on-the-record comment about the situation.

Bennett, Greitens’ lawyer, told TPM he had not been contacted by law enforcement and said he was confident that the governor would be “exonerated in any investigation.” In an interview with the St. Louis Dispatch, Bennett said Greitens was considering a lawsuit in response to the allegations.

Those charges are ricocheting around the national media and Missouri Capitol, where a number of lawmakers have called for investigations and for the governor to step down.

State Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh and Sen. Kiki Curls, both Democrats, released a statement calling for the “scrutiny of law enforcement.” State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D) insisted that Greitens “resign immediately.”

Republican lawmakers have also offered criticism, with Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington urging the governor to do the “right thing” if the charges are true, and Sen. Rob Schaaf, a strong critic of Greitens, tweeting, “Stick a fork in him.”

The editorial board of the St. Louis Dispatch, one of the region’s largest newspapers, published a column decrying the “tawdry details of his sex scandal” and branding the former NAVY seal, who ran on an agenda of supporting families, a “hypocrite” for enacting policies that did the exact opposite.