JEFFERSON CITY — Tuesday marked the first substantive committee hearing of the special legislative session, which could result in the impeachment of the governor.
Sex, lies and jealousy took center stage as the Missouri House Investigative Committee on Oversight took turns re-enacting hundreds of pages of legal testimony from the woman who said Gov. Eric Greitens took a nonconsensual, partially nude photograph of her. The statements the committee read Tuesday corroborated their earlier findings.
“There was no doubt in my mind that he took the photo,” the woman told a St. Louis grand jury.
The committee continued to read the transcripts released to them by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office. Some of that testimony led prosecutors to file criminal charges against Greitens, but no concrete evidence of the photo has shown up.
The transcripts include 14 to 16 hours of depositions from prosecutors and Greitens’ lawyers, as well as testimony the woman gave to the grand jury after Greitens’ indictment on felony invasion-of-privacy charges in February.
Legislators voted for a special session to consider disciplining Greitens after the committee’s own report on the invasion-of-privacy charge was published in April, painting a graphic picture of the governor as an aggressor in the affair. Greitens dismissed the report as a “political witch hunt”.
Prosecutor Kim Gardner dropped the criminal case last week after Judge Rex Burlison said Greitens’ defense team could call her as a witness. On Monday, Burlison appointed Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to take over the case.
No cross-examination of witnesses
In addition to continuing to read the transcripts through Friday, the committee will hear testimony from Scott Faughn at 1 p.m. Wednesday and Al Watkins at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Faughn, the publisher of the Missouri Times, gave $120,000 to Al Watkins, the lawyer of the woman’s ex-husband.
Unlike court proceedings, the committee's rules do not permit Greitens’ lawyers to cross-examine witnesses.
“I don’t think cross-examination would be much more than an attempt to filibuster our committee,” said vice-chair of the committee Rep. Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, at the start of the hearing. “I think they’ve already had ample time to basically cross-examine everybody.”
But others were less confident in that decision.
“Cross-examination for the attorneys, we know that is one of the best ways to evaluate witness testimony,” said committee member Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield. He said he still has faith that the process will operate in a just manner.
The governor’s lawyers, who had pushed for allowing cross-examination, were more skeptical.
“We were given assurance that this (committee hearing) would lead to truth,” attorney Edward Greim said. “There’s reason for concern,” he said, suggesting that it could shake public confidence.
“We’re talking about throwing out an election,” Greitens’ other lawyer Ross Garber told reporters, referencing allegations that Greitens misused campaign funds — an issue the committee has also investigated and could use as grounds for impeachment.
Gardner also has charged Greitens with felony tampering with computer data. That trial date has not been set.
Transcripts of the woman’s testimony
The re-enactments Tuesday of the woman’s legal testimony are so far consistent with the testimony she gave to the House committee for its April report.
“Don’t speak my name or everyone will know what a whore you — what a little whore you are,” the woman said Greitens told her as he snapped a photo of her, blindfolded, naked and restrained in his St. Louis basement on March 21, 2015. She said he threatened to use the photograph as blackmail if she told anyone about the affair.
Beyond the details of the affair, testimony read Tuesday revealed that Greitens’ 2016 gubernatorial opponent, Chris Koster’s campaign, was aware of the woman’s affair with Greitens before it was released in the press.
After the couple divorced, the woman’s ex-husband — whom she characterized as jealous and controlling — leaked the tapes of her confessing about the affair to the media.
The story aired on KMOV in January, and ignited a firestorm of political backlash. But the woman did not speak publicly about the affair until Monday night.
“I have no ill intentions other than not being made to be a liar. I’m not lying,” she told KDSK Monday. “This is hard, it was hard at that time and it’s hard to talk about now. I’m not lying. That’s it. I want to move on. I want to heal.”
Members also read from Greitens’ attorney Scott Rosenblum’s 9.5-hour deposition with the woman that took place in April. It provided some clarity on what Greitens’ defense team’s strategy might have been if the trial had moved forward.
Rosenblum’s line of questioning, as read Tuesday, attempted to discredit the woman and Gardner’s investigation as he accused her of lying about the affair and interrogated her on the particulars of her sex life. He also questioned the woman’s knowledge of special investigator William Tisaby’s presence at a private meeting in Illinois with Gardner and the woman’s lawyer, Scott Simpson.
Meanwhile, in Columbia, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson met with the local business community. When asked if he was up for the challenge of becoming governor if Greitens is removed from office, he said yes.
“My job right now is to focus on being the best Lt. Gov. I can be. And if that oath comes to affect and my job expands, then we’ll be ready for that expansion.”
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