Missouri state Senators are in wide agreement across party lines that they want to see Republican Governor Eric Greitens leave office, but they differ on the means to try to achieve that goal.
The Senators, as well as many House members, are incensed after a special House committee investigating possible misconduct by the governor released a report Wednesday that detailed alleged physical violence and sexual aggression by Greitens.
In the report, a woman with whom Greitens had an extramarital affair recounts a series of encounters with him in 2015 over which she claims he slapped her, shoved her to the ground and pressured her to perform oral sex on him.
Although the woman admitted to being emotionally conflicted over Greitens at the time, she said she feared for her safety on a couple of occasions. Two other women who are friends of the woman confirmed that her testimony before the committee was consistent with descriptions of the encounters she’d shared with them.
Greitens has called the committee report “one-sided tabloid trash gossip” and said the committee is on a witch hunt.
Although the House adjourned for the week a day early after the report’s release, the Senate was in session Thursday where its office holders lined up to offer their own options for dealing with what they perceive to be a defiant governor.
Democrat Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis thinks the Senate should block all legislation until the governor leaves office.
“I don’t think we should let not one bill get to his desk and allow for him sign, because he shouldn’t be there anyway,” said Nasheed.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate announced Wednesday that they’re preparing to call a special session if a House committee investigating Greitens makes recommendations.
GOP Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin says his office will start collecting signatures from the chamber’s members in anticipation of those recommendations starting next week.
For now, he says a decision on whether Greitens should resign is up to the House Speaker.
“I’ll stand by the speaker’s statement,” said Richard. “He’s worked long and hard on that. He has information that I don’t have. He’s asked me to stand with him and let his investigation continue. He’s stopped short (of calling for Greitens to resign). So, I’ll follow his lead.”
Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson of Poplar Bluff praised the bipartisan House committee, which is made up of five Republicans and two Democrats.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh of Bellefontaine Neighbors wants much quicker action than calling a special session, which would take place after the current session adjourns in mid-May. She favors immediate impeachment based on the woman’s testimony of abusive treatment by Greitens.
“I mean, for crying out loud,” said Walsh. “He coerced the young woman. He slapped her. Do you want him leading your state? I don’t want him leading my state.”
Republican Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, an outspoken critic of the governor, has taken a different tact to try and nudge Greitens from his seat. Schaaf thinks the governor, who’s a former Navy SEAL, would never surrender and leave office voluntarily unless asked to do so by President Trump.
“I think that if every legislator said for him to stand down and resign, I still don’t think that he would,” said Schaaf. “But I think if the President of the United States added his voice to it, it might affect his training and his wiring in such a way that he would actually do it.”
Schaaf drafted a letter to President Trump Thursday asking for assistance in persuading Greitens to resign.
When asked if it could be problematic to utilize a President facing own set of sexual misconduct allegations to press Greitens for his resignation, Schaaf said the two situations were separate and far different from each other.
Meanwhile, the senators are unmoved by proceedings in a St. Louis criminal court case where Greitens’ defense team claims to now have video testimony in which the woman he was involved with portrays a much less menacing series of meetings with him than does her testimony before the House committee.
Republican leader Richard told reporters Thursday that he’d like the House committee to subpoena the video footage but said the findings in the committee’s report stood for themselves.
“Those words – spanking, hitting – you can’t defend those actions,” said Richard.
Greitens faces felony invasion of privacy charges in St. Louis Circuit Court for his alleged actions with the woman. Whether or not he’s found guilty there, both Republican and Democratic leaders in Jefferson City say they’re holding Greitens to a separate standard to hold public office.
They say the state Constitution allows them to look at “moral turpitude”, which is “an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community”.
Both Sides in Court Case Continue to Tangle
Another twist surfaced Thursday morning in Greitens criminal court case related the subject matter of the House investigation.
Greitens’ defense team announced that the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office had turned over a videotaped interview of the woman with whom Greitens was having the affair an hour after the House report was released.
The defense accused Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner of withholding evidence and said it would ask for sanctions against her and seek to interview the woman again. The defense team also asked the judge to reconsider its previous motion to dismiss the case against Greitens.
The Circuit Attorney’s Office had previously said there had been a malfunction with the machine used to record the video interview which was conducted by the prosecution’s hired private investigator, William Tisaby.
The defense claims Tisaby lied under oath when he said he didn’t take notes during his interview with the woman.
The Circuit Attorney’s Office responded by distributing a court filing Thursday afternoon.
In it, the circuit attorney claims discovery of the video was made Tuesday, and that it was delivered to the defense after all associated notes relating to it were gathered together on Thursday.
The office claims the accusations from the defense are an attempt to distract the court’s and the public’s attention from the merits of this case.
Both sides in the court case appear before presiding Judge Rex Burlison every Thursday leading up to the May 24 trial date.
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