JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced Tuesday he is stepping down effective at 5 p.m. Friday in the face of an impeachment effort, an adverse judicial ruling and multiple criminal investigations.
“The last few months have been incredibly difficult for me, for my family, for my team, for my friends, and many, many people that I love,” he said, saying he was the victim of “legal harassment.”
“I have not broken any laws or committed any offense worthy of this treatment,” he asserted. “I love Missouri and I love our people. That love remains.”
Greitens, a Republican, rocketed onto Missouri’s political scene in 2015, promising to take on “career politicians” and a culture of “corruption” in Jefferson City. A year after taking office, his own administration became engulfed in scandal, when Greitens admitted to a 2015 extramarital affair but denied allegations he threatened his lover with a compromising photograph.
Peripheral scandals swirled — his reliance on untraceable political donations, use of a self-destructing texting app, and use of a charity donor list to raise campaign contributions all drawing negative attention.
Despite revelation after revelation this winter and spring, Greitens resisted leaving his post — until his surprise announcement on Tuesday.
After his announcement, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat who had lead the now-scuttled felony invasion of privacy case against the governor, said her office had reached a “fair and just resolution” with Greitens’ attorneys. Her spokeswoman later said the agreement was in regard to a second St. Louis charge, a felony data tampering case.
“I have been in contact with the Governor’s defense team over the past several days,” she said in a statement. “We have reached a fair and just resolution of the pending charges. We will provide more information tomorrow.”
Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who was named special prosecutor after the charges related to his extramarital affair were dropped this month, said her investigation continues.
“In the interest of pursing justice to its fullest lengths, we will continue until our work on the case is completed,” Baker said in a statement. “Specifically regarding any deals we made with Governor Greitens’ attorneys, no deals were made by my office. Our review of this case, as I have stated before, will be pursued without fear or favor.”
Greitens’ surprise announcement came hours after a ruling by a Cole County judge forcing the governor’s campaign and a dark-money group affiliated with Greitens to reveal fundraising information to a special House committee that was probing him.
Following the announcement, the committee canceled the remaining hearings on its schedule this week.
Greitens’ decision means that Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, also a Republican, will become governor.
Parson, 62, was not in the Capitol when Greitens announced his plan. His chief of staff, Ward Franz, was unsure if the farmer from Bolivar had spoken with Greitens before the announcement. Franz said a statement from Parson would be forthcoming.
“I think you’ll be pleased with him as governor,” Franz said.
Rumors spread Tuesday afternoon that Greitens had decided to resign. Allegations surrounding the governor led to an unprecedented split in Greitens’ Republican party, leaders of which led efforts to impeach him.
Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican who is leading the Missouri House investigation into Greitens, said after the announcement that he would not comment on Greitens’ resignation or whether the committee would continue its work.
Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is investigating Greitens and had called on him to resign, said Greitens did the “right thing” by resigning. Hawley, a Republican, is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has barbed Hawley, saying he had enabled Greitens during his short tenure in office.
“Governor Greitens has done the right thing today,” Hawley said in a statement. “I wish incoming Governor Mike Parson well, and stand ready to assist him in his transition. This Office’s work for the people of Missouri goes forward.”
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said the governor’s problems were trying for the state.
“When the governor took office in January of 2017, I had very high hopes. I believed we were on the path to building a better Missouri. This is not the position I imagined we would be in nearly 16 months later. However, I do believe the governor made the right decision,” Richard said.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, had called for Greitens’ resignation and led the effort to call a special session to consider impeachment.
“We believe the Governor has put the best interest of Missourians first today by choosing to resign,” Richardson said. “The past few months have been difficult for everyone involved, including the Governor and his family. This is a serious and solemn occasion that reminds us that our state and our duty are bigger than any one person or party.”
Court ruling, testimony
Greitens’ historic move came hours after a Cole County judge ruled the governor and his allies must comply with two subpoenas from the House panel that is seeking information about the nonprofit A New Missouri and his campaign fund — despite protests from Greitens’ legal team.
Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem said the House committee investigating Greitens was within its rights to ask for the documents as it probes whether the Republican governor should be impeached and booted from office.
“The Court finds the requests are within the authority of the requestor,” Beetem wrote in his six-page decision. “The Court further finds and believes that time is of the essence and production should begin immediately and, absent good cause shown, said production should be completed by June 1, 2018.”
It was unclear Tuesday afternoon if the campaign and dark-money group would still turn over information to the panel or protest further, arguing that because Greitens is resigning, the committee would lose jurisdiction.
Greitens for Missouri and A New Missouri were ordered to turn over communications between the two groups and policies “concerning coordination or communication between Greitens for Missouri and A New Missouri, Inc.”
A New Missouri was ordered to turn over receipts of paid media, content of paid media and communication regarding paid media. The non-profit will also have to turn over communications between the group and Greitens and his campaign.
The finding was a blow to Greitens’ legal team, which sought to quash the subpoenas. Catherine Hanaway, a Greitens attorney, said in a statement she was “not surprised” Beetem sided with the committee after the House narrowed down what it was seeking the court to force compliance with in anticipation for the court hearing.
Hanaway also said she was pleased the judge is allowing A New Missouri to redact the names of donors to protect their identities.
“We are considering our options for an appeal,” Hanaway said.
The House committee has said it believes the Greitens campaign and its associates may have actively worked to conceal the identity of donors, a campaign finance violation.
A former Greitens campaign adviser, Michael Hafner, also told the committee Tuesday that the Greitens campaign discussed soliciting donations from foreign nationals, a violation of federal law.
“There were conversations that we had where foreign money was discussed and the possibility of foreign money being contributed to an entity,” Hafner said.
Hafner left the campaign soon after and said he was not aware if those discussions continued.
Greitens’ legal team, led by Hanaway, argued last week that the special House committee’s request for documents was too sweeping and amounted to a “fishing expedition.” Hanaway said the campaign had already produced thousands of documents within a short time period. She also worried the identity of donors to A New Missouri — which has not revealed its donors — would be revealed if the House obtained its documents.
“The requestor Committee has a mandate to investigate the allegations against Governor Greitens,” Beetem wrote. “While this is a broad mandate, so are the grounds for impeachment. The Court finds the requests are within the authority of the requestor.”
Greitens himself has been subpoenaed to testify before the committee on June 4, but his attorneys have not said whether he will comply.
Along with looking at possible campaign fundraising violations as grounds for impeachment, the committee has spent hours reviewing details of a 2015 affair Greitens had with his hairdresser.
In his testimony, Hafner outlined his role in the early stages of Greitens’ decision to run for governor, during which time the governor is alleged to have violated state ethics laws by spending money on his campaign without forming a campaign committee.
In particiular, Hafner said he was paid by one of Greitens’ businesses throughout the month of January before the campaign committee was formed.
Hafner said he had advised Greitens to form a committee to avoid breaking the law.
“Obviously he disregarded it,” Hafner said.
Hafner, who later went to work for businessman John Brunner’s unsuccessful 2016 campaign for the GOP nomination for governor, has been called a “disgruntled” ex-staffer by Greitens’ attorneys.
On Tuesday, however, he denied it.
“I didn’t seek this out. I am here in pursuit of the truth,” Hafner said. “I was perfectly content with leaving all of this in the past.”
An outsider who pledged to fight corruption
From the outset of his campaign for governor, despite being a Rhodes scholar and an author, Greitens played up his physicality — and that he was a former Navy SEAL. A campaign video showed him in a tight black shirt firing rounds. He rappelled into a stadium and trained with firefighters.
He branded himself as a “conservative outsider” who’d take on the “corruption” in Jefferson City, even though the Legislature had been controlled by Republicans for more than a decade.
During the GOP primary, he took one of his opponents, John Brunner, to task — calling him a “weasel” — over what Greitens considered a campaign slight. Brunner’s campaign said at the time it recorded the phone call because an earlier call from Greitens seemed “bordering on a threatening nature.”
In early 2016, he said voters could “see every single one of our donors,” but concerns over his campaign financing started almost immediately. Early on, the majority of his funding came from out of state. In 2016, he received the largest political contribution in state history, $1.9 million, but he kept the identity of the donor secret, which would become a common theme.
Installed in office, Greitens honed an abrasive tone, ridiculing legislators on social media when they debated giving themselves a pay raise. A New Missouri posted advertisements containing the cell phone number of Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican who had often butted heads with Greitens.
Greitens broke with tradition in other ways, bypassing the Capitol press to deliver statements on social media. He did not announce his budget outline at his State of the State address, which is custom.
And he called lawmakers back twice to debate abortion legislation and a bill designed to encourage a smelter in the Bootheel. At one point, he called legislators third-graders.
The scene in the Capitol
The governor’s end came in a mad scramble that was, for some, emotional.
A bit after 3 p.m. Monday, no one was stationed at the front desk of the governor’s reception room. A woman who walked through the office said Greitens’ press secretary was “in a meeting.”
Around 3:15 p.m., a Post-Dispatch reporter stopped by Parson’s office to see if his press secretary, Kelli Jones, had heard anything about a possible resignation.
“I have not heard anything,” she said.
Over the next several minutes, Greitens’ staffers paced up and down the second floor hallway entering and exiting their office suite. Parker Briden, the governor’s press secretary, who did not return earlier phone messages, said in passing when asked if a resignation was imminent that he would have “a statement a little bit later today. About to send an email.”
Two other Greitens officials, Drew Erdmann and Will Scharf, declined to respond to reporter questions as they walked down the hallway.
Capitol maintenance workers hauled a podium up a spiraled Rotunda stairwell and to Greitens’ office.
A line of reporters and other Capitol staffers began to gather outside Greitens’ office.
Greitens’ chief legal counsel, Lucinda Luetkemeyer, wept during and after the governor’s announcement
Afterwards, Erdmann, who was brought in to serve as the chief operating officer for the administration, was asked what’s next. He could only shrug.