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Disgraced ex-governor of Missouri Eric Greitens plots Senate comeback bid

Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has announced his plans to run for the U.S. Senate, two years after resigning in disgrace amid allegations he took nude photos of his secret lover without her permission.

Greitens, 46, is a former Navy SEAL officer who rose quickly to top office in the Show-Me State, before the scandal politically sidelined the then-married father of two in 2018.

His announcement on Monday came 14 days after fellow Republican Roy Blunt said he would not seek a third Senate term in 2022. 

Greitens had been laying the groundwork for a return to politics even before Blunt’s announcement, with increasingly frequent appearances on conservative radio and television appealing to supporters of former President Donald Trump, who carried Missouri with 57 percent of the vote in 2020.

Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has announced his plans to run for the U.S. Senate, two years after resigning in disgrace amid blackmail and invasion of privacy allegations

His announcement on Monday came 14 days after fellow Republican Roy Blunt (above) said he would not seek a third Senate term in 2022

His announcement on Monday came 14 days after fellow Republican Roy Blunt (above) said he would not seek a third Senate term in 2022

A number of other Republican candidates initially showed interest in replacing Blunt in heavily Republican Missouri, but the GOP field is narrowing.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and early favorite Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft have both said they won’t run, leaving Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt and several of Missouri’s U.S. representatives as potential Greitens opponents.

‘My sense is that the Republican Party has probably sent a clear message to all potential candidates for Blunt´s seat that they want to consolidate their efforts behind one candidate, and a candidate that will be successful,’ Webster University political scientist Bill Hall said.

Blunt was the fifth Republican senator to announce he will not seek reelection, a retirement wave that might lead to an ugly campaign season next year and give Democrats fresh hope of preserving their Senate majority.

Greitens was a political outsider when he ran for governor in 2016, but his resume was impressive. In addition to his role in the elite military outfit, he was a best-selling author, a Rhodes scholar and had started a successful charity for veterans.

Greitens defeated establishment Republicans in the primary before winning in November. By the end of his first year in office, Greitens was getting buzz as a potential future presidential contender.

Greitens delivers masks to first responders in Columbia, Missouri a year ago. Greitens passed out masks across the state in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic last spring

Greitens delivers masks to first responders in Columbia, Missouri a year ago. Greitens passed out masks across the state in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic last spring

It all began to fall apart in January 2018 when a St. Louis TV station aired a report about an extramarital affair with his hairdresser in 2015, before he was elected. 

A month later, a grand jury indicted Greitens for invasion of privacy, accusing him of taking a compromising photo of the woman and threatening to use it as blackmail if she ever spoke of the encounter.

The photo, taken in March 2015, allegedly displayed the hairstylist blindfolded, bound at the hands, and at least partially in the nude. 

Greitens admitted to the affair (he and his wife, Sheena, divorced last year) but denied criminal wrongdoing and accused Gardner, a Democrat, of a politically motivated prosecution.

Another scandal followed in April when Gardner charged Greitens with another felony, accusing him of illegally using the donor list for his charity, The Mission Continues, to raise money for his 2016 campaign.

Greitens admitted to the affair (he and his wife, Sheena, divorced last year) but denied criminal wrongdoing

Greitens admitted to the affair (he and his wife, Sheena, divorced last year) but denied criminal wrongdoing 

Meanwhile, the Republican-led Missouri Legislature began considering whether to pursue impeachment proceedings. 

Those discussions and the criminal charges came to an end when Greitens resigned in June 2018.

His return to public life has been gradual. He successfully sought reinstatement to the Navy, though not as a SEAL officer, in 2019. 

He passed out masks to first responders across the state in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic last spring. 

He has launched his own television show on the internet and Dish TV and is appearing often on conservative TV and radio programs.

St. Louis University political scientist Ken Warren said that despite the scandals that drove him from office, polling has shown Greitens with fierce support among about one-third of Missouri Republicans. 

That support might be enough for a primary win if several establishment candidates siphon votes from each other.

‘Republicans want to win back the Senate, and to do so, they must hold Blunt’s Republican seat,’ Warren said in an email. 

‘Greitens would be a very risky candidate for the Republicans because he certainly could lose, even in the red state of MO.’

Democrats seeking the Senate seat are Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, former state Senator Scott Sifton and activist Timothy Shepard. 

How did Greitens’ affair and ‘blackmail’ scandal unfold? 

On January 10, 2018, soon after Greitens concluded his state of the state speech, St. Louis TV station KMOV aired a report that the married father of two had had an affair in 2015 with his St. Louis hairdresser. 

The TV report featured a conversation secretly recorded by the woman’s then-husband in which she described to him some of her interactions with Greitens. 

In it, she says Greitens took a photo of her while she was partially nude and threatened to release it if she exposed their relationship. Greitens issued a statement admitting to the affair but calling it consensual and denying blackmail. 

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, launched an investigation immediately after the media report. The investigation resulted in a St. Louis grand jury indicting Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge on February 22, 2018.

Jury selection began in May 2018. But three days later, a judge ordered Gardner to provide a statement under oath at the request of Greitens´ attorneys. 

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, aggressively pursued charges against Greitens, but the cases were ultimately dropped

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, aggressively pursued charges against Greitens, but the cases were ultimately dropped

They had accused Gardner of allowing a private investigator she hired to commit perjury and withhold evidence. Gardner said she had no choice but to drop the charge because Missouri’s rules of professional conduct prohibit attorneys from litigating a case in which they´ve been called as a witness.

A week later a judge appointed Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker as a special prosecutor to consider whether to refile the invasion of privacy charge. 

In June 2018, after Greitens had resigned, Baker announced that she believed the woman’s claim about a photo, but there wasn’t enough evidence to merit a criminal charge without relying on the woman’s testimony, and she didn’t want to participate. 

‘She never wanted this,’ Baker said. ‘She never willingly came forward, but she did tell the truth.’

No photo was found on Grietens’ phone. Baker said that a phone that forensic examiners looked at had at least 31,000 fewer files in May than it had in April.

Greitens has frequently denied criminal behavior but has refused to answer direct questions about the alleged blackmail photo.

Meanwhile, the Republican-led Missouri House had formed a bipartisan committee to investigate Greitens on March 1, 2018. On April 11, the committee released a graphic report on the affair. 

The woman involved with Greitens told investigators that he slapped, spanked, shoved, grabbed and called her derogatory names during a series of sexual encounters in 2015. The committee found her testimony credible. Greitens said the report was part of a ‘witch hunt.’

On March 1, 2018, then Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican and now a senator, opened an inquiry into whether Greitens used a donor list from The Mission Continues for his political campaign. 

Hawley’s investigation determined that Greitens may have committed a felony by taking the charity’s donor list and using it for political fundraising without the charity´s permission. 

Hawley turned his evidence over to Gardner’s office. On April 20, 2018, Greitens was charged with felony tampering with computer data. He called the allegations ‘ridiculous.’ Meanwhile, state House investigators also began looking into that case.

On May 3, 2018, Republican leaders in the Missouri House and Senate announced they had enough signatures to call a special legislative session to consider disciplinary actions against Greitens that could include impeachment. 

Gardner was moving ahead with the evidence tampering case and the potential existed for refiling of the invasion of privacy charge. Amid this backdrop, Greitens resigned from office on June 1, 2018. Gardner announced she would no longer pursue charges and the House investigations ceased.

 


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