Missouri governor took a path less trod to win, lose office

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens didn’t follow the normal path to political power, nor is he taking the usual exit from office.

Greitens, who won election as a political outsider promising to clean up government, will resign Friday after striking a deal with a prosecutor to avoid trial on a felony campaign-finance charge. The arrangement includes no admission of wrongdoing.

The dropped charge alleging that he illegally used a veterans’ charity donor list for his gubernatorial campaign was just the tip of Greitens’ problems. The Republican governor also faced potential impeachment by the Missouri House, the potential refiling of sexual misconduct charges related to an extramarital affair and an ongoing Missouri Ethics Commission investigation into complaints of more campaign-finance violations.

When he formally steps down at 5 p.m. Friday, Greitens will have served for 509 days — just one-third of the term to which voters elected him in 2016. It will mark the first time a Missouri governor has resigned since 1857, when Gov. Trusten Polk left to join the U.S. Senate. Greitens will be the only Missouri governor to quit amid scandal.

“The fall in less than a year and a half is remarkable,” said Mark Rushefsky, a retired Missouri State University professor who taught political science there for nearly three decades.

A St. Louis prosecutor is dismissing a computer tampering charge against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is resigning. (May 30)

Greitens’ resume was equally remarkable when he jumped into the governor’s race in 2015. He was a Rhodes scholar who had traveled the world on humanitarian missions before becoming a Navy SEAL officer. He founded the veterans’ charity, became a best-selling author and then a motivational speaker. A lifelong Democrat, Greitens switched to the Republican Party before launching his first and only bid for office.

“If you look at the previous governors in Missouri, they’ve been secretary of state. They’ve held local offices and things like that. They built a career in politics,” Rushefsky said. “Greitens was kind of the anti-political politician.”

The beginning of the end for Greitens came on Jan. 10. Shortly after his State of the State speech, a St. Louis TV station aired an audio recording of a woman telling her husband how she had an affair with Greitens, who had bound her hands, blindfolded her, taken a compromising photo and warned her that he would distribute it if she ever said anything about their encounter.

The governor acknowledged having the affair in 2015, before he was elected, but he has not directly answered questions about whether he restrained and photographed the woman. He has denied making any threat of blackmail.

He remained in office nearly five more months, racking up millions of dollars in legal bills while fighting a legislative investigation and criminal charges that arose from his affair and political fundraising. Greitens cited the financial and personal strain while announcing his resignation Tuesday.

Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor who has written a soon-to-be released book about state and federal impeachment processes, said what strikes him most about Greitens’ case is that he was forced from office relatively quickly.

“For a guy who was supposed to be the future of his party, it unwound remarkably fast,” Gerhardt said. “That’s pretty fast for someone to go from the heights to the depths.”

Also unusual is the deal which Greitens struck to step down.

Last year in Alabama, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley faced potential impeachment over allegations that he used state resources to hide an affair with a top aide. Bentley resigned as part of a deal with the attorney general’s office that included him pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges of violating state campaign-finance laws.

Greitens’ deal with St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner includes no guilty plea to anything.

To the contrary, Greitens defiantly declared while announcing his resignation that he had “not broken any laws or committed any offense worthy of this treatment.”

He still faces the potential that a special prosecutor could refile charges stemming his actions in the affair. And the House investigation may also linger.

A House spokesman confirmed Thursday that lawmakers still expect Greitens’ campaign and an organization called A New Missouri to comply with a court order to turn over subpoenaed records by Friday detailing any coordination between Greitens, his campaign and the nonprofit group that has supported his agenda.

Though he’s resigning, the deal Greitens struck with the St. Louis prosecutor is still “a good result for him,” said Michael Wolff, a former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and former dean of the Saint Louis University Law School.

Greitens can still say he was never impeached and — unless other future charges are brought — never convicted of anything.

“In six months, I think it’s possible you’ll have a lot of, ‘Oh, I was pushed out by this liberal cabal,’” Wolff said.

Jean Paul Bradshaw II, a Kansas City lawyer who is a former U.S. attorney for western Missouri, said “in a perfect world,” a prosecutor would have required Greitens to plead guilty to a lesser charge to resolve the computer data tampering case. But his resignation still addresses a public interest, he said.

“Is it the best resolution? Maybe not,” Bradshaw said. “But this is a fair resolution.”

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