Acquittal of Greitens wouldn’t guarantee political survival

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Embattled Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens says his upcoming criminal trial will prove his innocence of an invasion of privacy charge stemming from an extramarital affair and allow him to move past the scandal. Experts say that’s far from certain, especially after new and even more troubling allegations emerged this week.

The Republican governor is set for trial May 14 in St. Louis on a felony indictment accusing him of taking a lewd photo of the woman without her permission in 2015, before he was elected. But other details by the woman in testimony to a special legislative committee include accusations of unwanted sexual aggression — allegations that have raised questions about whether additional charges are possible and whether lawmakers should seek to impeach the governor.

Greitens said the report was full of “lies and falsehoods.” He has called the investigations into his alleged wrongdoing a “political witch hunt,” even though his own party controls the Legislature and Republicans hold five of the seven seats on the panel that investigated him.

Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens said Wednesday that a state House committee’s report on an investigation into his extramarital affair with his hairdresser is a “political witch hunt.” (April 11)

“In 32 days, a court of law and a jury of my peers will let every person in Missouri know the truth and prove my innocence,” Greitens posted on Facebook.

But that trial next month is only on an invasion-of-privacy charge. Not only does it not address other allegations in the legislative report, acquittal of the charge might not be enough for Greitens to keep his job, said Jack Sharman, a lawyer who headed an Alabama House committee’s impeachment investigation of Gov. Robert Bentley before Bentley resigned and pleaded guilty in April 2017 over allegations linked to his alleged affair with a longtime aide.

The Missouri Constitution provides for impeachment for any offense involving “moral turpitude,” though it’s unclear whether that must occur while a person is in office. The standard of proof is far less stringent than what is required in a court of law, Sharman said.

“Impeachment is a remedy for an offense against the office. The constitution provides the Legislature greater latitude in determining what, in fact, is an impeachable offense,” Sharman said.

As for the possibility of additional criminal charges, the St. Louis prosecutor’s office says the investigation remains active but declined to discuss details.

In her testimony to lawmakers, the woman said Greitens slapped, grabbed, shoved and threatened her during unwanted sexual encounters. The woman involved with Greitens never sought charges. It’s unclear whether she may feel differently now that Greitens and his legal team have attacked that report. Her attorney, Scott Simpson, declined comment.

Washington University School of Law professor Peter Joy said the woman’s willingness or unwillingness to pursue new charges would be a major factor considered by prosecutors.

“The victim in any offense doesn’t make the final decision, but every prosecutor takes that into consideration, especially in a situation where it involves some kind of sexual assault,” Joy said.

Either way, experts say prosecutors would face significant hurdles if they decided to file a new charge.

“There was no report to police at the time. There was no physical examination of any sort,” said Mike Wolff, dean emeritus of the St. Louis University School of Law and former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. “So what the prosecutor has is really a classic he-said-she-said case, and I think that would be a really hard case to make.”

Joy said the woman’s willingness to continue the relationship for several months “also would be problematic in terms of the issue of consent.”

Regardless of whether Greitens might ever face additional criminal charges stemming from the affair, he does face political fallout, including mounting pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to resign.

“I think it’s going to be awfully difficult for him to survive politically,” said University of Missouri-Columbia political scientist Peverill Squire. “He thinks if he just stretches it out he can survive, but it’s hard to imagine that with the number of Republicans who have come out against him, there will be enough support to see him staying in the job.”

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