There’s some evidence of pushback in the Missouri House against quick punishment of Republican Governor Eric Greitens for alleged conduct.
A House committee investigating Greitens released a report last week which contained testimony by a woman detailing how he physically abused and sexual coerced her. The two were involved in an extramarital affair at the time in 2015.
Since the release of the House report, Greitens defense team in a criminal case dealing with the same subject matter has acquired a video in which it says the woman portrays a much more positive picture of the relationship.
Republican Representative Lindell Shumake of Hannibal says he finds the governor’s alleged behavior unacceptable but thinks it’s too early to pass judgment on disciplinary action.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to do that yet,” said Shumate. “I’ve encouraged my constituents to wait and watch the events. And when all the information is in, then decide. Then make a judgment about the situation.”
Shumake says it’s important to get Greitens’ side of the story. The governor has declined to appear before the House committee and says he will only do so after his criminal trial is wrapped up.
Greitens faces felony invasion of privacy charges in St. Louis Circuit Court for allegedly taking a photo of the woman in a state of partial or full nudity and then threatening to distribute the photo if she mentioned their relationship to others.
Representative Shumake says he understands why Greitens has declined to testify before the House committee. “Probably any attorney that’s out there would not have advised the governor to speak to the committee with a criminal case pending,” Shumate said. “So, therefore that’s why we have just one half of a story.”
Shumake says he’s reserving judgment until Greitens speaks out and says he’s also waiting to see what happens with the criminal case.
Fellow Republican Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch of Hallsville also wants to hear what Greitens has to say before passing judgment on his activity. “I still think this is America and you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty,” said Toalson Reisch. “There’s two sides to the story. And right now the House has heard one side.”
Like Shumake, Toalson Reisch is putting stock in what happens with the court case and wants to hear about any conclusions the House committee might come to. “It’s an ongoing investigation and it’s a process. So I’m waiting for the process to play itself out. And the trial will be here in a few weeks.”
Greitens trial is set to start May 14th, although the proceedings of almost daily pre-trial hearings have dominated recent news cycles.
The judge will issues a decision Thursday on whether to dismiss the case after the defense claimed the prosecution improperly withheld evidence, namely the video recording in question along with accompanying notes, for months.
Meanwhile, many of Shumake and Toalson Reisch’s Democratic and Republican colleagues have dismissed the criminal case from their consideration of Greitens’ fate.
GOP leadership in the Republican-dominated legislature is making arrangements for a possible special session of lawmakers following the current scheduled session which ends May 18th.
Members of both parties have focused on a phrase in the Missouri Constitution, “moral turpitude”, which is included in a section that specifies the various grounds for impeachment. Moral turpitude is defined by legaldictionary.net as a legal concept that refers to any conduct that is believed to be contrary to the community standards of honesty, justice, or good moral values.
For his part, Representative Shumate is not a fan of constitutional arguments to impeach Greitens. “I’ve read the constitution again and again and thought and looked over the impeachment aspect and tried to determine whether this fits in with that,” said Shumake. “And not neatly I don’t think.”
Support in general for Greitens has slipped as the governor is the subject of several investigations.
In addition to probes into his conduct with the woman is an Ethics Commission examination into a complaint by a Democratic operative about his use of donor and email lists from his former charity. Attorney General Josh Hawley is investigating the same subject matter. Hawley separately has called on Greitens to resign.
Those House Republicans who are withholding judgment on Greiten may have an eye on recent polling. A survey released last week by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research showed that a plurality of voters in the heavily Republican-leaning regions outside Kansas City and St. Louis still approve of Greiten’s job performance and don’t think he should resign.
There may be more unity among Republicans in the Senate to call a special session for the purpose of considering impeachment proceedings.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin says his office is collecting signatures from Senators in anticipation of a recommendation by the House committee investigating Greitens.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City says the prospect of disciplining Greitens in not a partisan issue. Kehoe called for the governor to resign last week after Greitens accused the House committee of conducting a witch hunt against him.
Senator Denny Hoskins of Warrensburg, who along with others tangled with Governor Greitens over a proposed legislative pay raise, has been a lead Republican is calling for outright impeachment if Greitens.
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