JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ once-meteoric political rise crashed Tuesday at the state Capitol as he announced his resignation.
“This ordeal has been designed to cause an incredible amount of strain on my family,” said the 44-year-old Rhodes Scholar with a degree in ethics. Standing alone, Gov. Greitens' voice cracked as he addressed Missourians from the office he’s set to vacate at 5 p.m. Friday.
Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Parson will succeed the governor on Friday.
“It is clear that for the forces that oppose us, there is no end in sight,” Greitens said. “I cannot allow those forces to continue to cause pain and difficulty to the people I love.”
Those “forces” include the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office and the special House committee investigating the governor.
Months of investigation
Greitens’ resignation comes after four months of scandal consumed Missouri’s political landscape. In January, Greitens admitted to having an extramarital relationship, but he has refused to comment on the woman’s allegations that he took a partially nude photograph of her, bound and blindfolded in his basement, as blackmail.
However, those accusations led a grand jury to indict Greitens on a now-dropped felony invasion-of-privacy charge in February. In the wake of the charge, calls for his resignation began trickling in from members of the Missouri General Assembly. Earlier this month, St. Louis judge Rex Burlison appointed Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to review evidence in that case and decide whether to re-file charges.
Soon after news of the criminal charges broke, the Special House Investigative Committee on Oversight formed, and started looking into those allegations as well as Greitens’ possible unlawful use of a nonprofit donor list for campaign fundraising. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office also has charged Greitens with felony tampering with computer data in relation to those claims.
Greitens repeatedly has dismissed both the circuit attorney's and the legislature’s investigations as a “political witch hunt.” In his final speech as Missouri’s 56th governor, he maintained his innocence.
“I know, and the people of good faith know, that I am not perfect, but I have not broken any laws or committed any offense worthy of this treatment,” Greitens said.
The grip of the investigation tightened around Greitens after the House committee announced Friday it had subpoenaed him to testify next week.
By Tuesday morning, that grip was getting even tighter.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem ordered Greitens’ legal team to turn over documents related to his campaign committee, Greitens for Missouri, and a nonprofit, A New Missouri.
Meanwhile, the House committee took over three hours of testimony from former Greitens campaign aide Michael Hafner, who stated under oath that “the governor and his team were untruthful to the Missouri Ethics Commission about that donor list.”
No sooner had the committee adjourned around 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, than the governor’s office announced a surprise press conference. By 4:30 p.m., Greitens had announced his resignation.
The Associated Press reported that the local St. Louis prosecutor’s office said Tuesday it had reached a “fair and just resolution” on criminal charges against Greitens now that he’s leaving office.
But the prosecutor said details would not be made public until Wednesday.
The special committee was still knee-deep in a special legislative session that could have resulted in Greitens’ impeachment.
While chair of the investigative committee, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, would not comment Tuesday to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about whether the process has ended, the House website listed previously scheduled committee meetings as canceled.
But some lawmakers still want answers.
“Innocent people don’t resign and criminals don’t get let off the hook simply because they cut and run,” said Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. “Missourians deserve to know what laws were broken, what lies were told, and how deep the corruption went.”
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said that “many of us were caught off-guard today by the resignation,” adding that “many of us felt like this should have happened five months ago.”
Although Kendrick said he’s not sure whether the House investigation can or will continue, “the people of Missouri deserve an investigation into” A New Missouri.
Other lawmakers were relieved.
“The governor’s announcement marks the conclusion to a drama that has drawn on for far too long,” said Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. “It is regrettable the state of Missouri is in this position, but far more regrettable would have been for this spectacle to continue to drag on,” said Kehoe, the Senate’s majority floor leader.
Clinging to innocence
Greitens remained steadfast in his own defense. “I will let the fairness of this process be judged by history,” he said.
The Navy SEAL-turned-politician, who once had his sights set on Washington, closed the brief news conference with a military metaphor: “For the moment, let us walk off the battlefield with our heads held high.”
True to the shadowy form of his 16-month tenure, Greitens took no questions from the gaggle of reporters crowded into his office as he disappeared behind a closed door — perhaps for the last time.
Missourian reporter Madison McVan contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, email@example.com.