Greitens steps down, says it's time to leave battlefield with "head held high"
JEFFERSON CITY – In the midst of two scandals, and facing subpoenas from a special house committee, Gov. Eric Greitens resigned saying it is time to "walk off the battlefield" with head held high. His resignation will be effective at 5 p.m. Friday.
The allegations against him include blackmail related to an extramarital relationship and computer tampering related to “dark money” campaign financing.
Greitens made the announcement at 4:30 p.m., saying "the last few months have been incredibly difficult" and an "ordeal" for his family. His voice broke as he said it is time to "tend to those who have been wounded" and care for those who need it most.
He cited mounting legal bills and endless personal attacks designed to inflict damage.
Calls for the governor’s resignation grew louder after the House Special Investigative Committee released several reports indicating it finds witnesses against the governor are credible. The legislature is currently in a special session to consider possible disciplinary action against the governor, including the possibility of impeachment.
St. Louis prosecutors say Greitens raised money for his campaign using a donor list he got without permission from The Mission Continues, a charity he founded to help veterans readjust to life after service. Greitens had previously paid a small fine to the state’s Ethics Commission for failing to report it. He faces a felony charge of computer tampering.
The blackmail scandal first surfaced when St. Louis television station KMOV reported the affair on Jan. 10. Its investigation largely centered on an audio recording made by the woman’s former husband.
On the recording, the woman can be heard crying, saying Greitens bound her hands with duct tape, blindfolded her and then took the nude picture without her consent.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner charged Greitens with invasion of privacy, but recently dropped the charge amid criticism of an investigator her office hired. A special prosecutor was designated to look into whether the case should be pursued.
Gardner's office also filed the computer tampering charge. Gardner released a statement today saying she has been in contact with Greitens' defense team over the past several days.
"We have reached a fair and just resolution of the pending charges. We will provide more information tomorrow," her statement said.
In multiple appearances before reporters, Greitens referred to the allegations against him as a political “witch hunt.”
In his resignation announcement, Greitens said he could not allow his critics "to continue to cause pain and difficulty to the people that I love."
"There is no end in sight," he said.
Many lawmakers, including members of his own party, had persistently called for Greitens’ resignation after the scandals surfaced, saying they were a distraction at the very least and, “absolutely appalling” if true.
Shortly after Greitens announced his resignation, House leaders, including speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, released a statement saying, "We believe the Governor has put the best interest of Missourians first today by choosing to resign."
The statement 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."
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-St. Louis, said, “The brief and deeply troubled term of Eric Greitens is a case study for why Missouri's highest elected office is no place for beginners."
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said the last five months have been "trying times" for Missouri.
“Relationships were strained, and bonds were tested. 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.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted, "Today the great state of Missouri moves forward and recommits to the business of governing."
One of Greitens' biggest detractors, Attorney General Josh Hawley, said "Governor Greitens has done the right thing today."
Greitens, a Rhodes Scholar and a former Navy SEAL, ran as a political outsider.
“When I’m Governor, we’re going to clean up the mess in Jefferson City, restore trust in government, and get real results for people,” he wrote on his campaign website.
Greitens' governorship had other controversies.
He was criticized for his quest to remove Margie Vandeven, the state’s former top education official. Many lawmakers saw that as an overreach of power.
Greitens also came under fire after reports he and his staff were using a message-deleting app called Confide. Critics said erasing messages amounted to the illegal destruction of government documents.
Some political observers believed Greitens could have been a contender for the White House. The St. Louis Dispatch reported he even reserved the website EricGreitensForPresident.com.
Lt. Gov. Mike Parson will take over as governor.
Parson released a statement saying, "This is a decision that will allow our state to heal and move forward from what has been a difficult time."
The statement also touched on his future as governor. The statement said, "This is an enormous responsibility serving as our state's next governor, and I am ready to fulfill the duties of the office with honor and integrity and with a steadfast commitment to making our great state even greater for the people we are entrusted to serve."
He is a third-generation farmer with a cow and calf operation near Bolivar. He’s a former sheriff, state senator and state representative. He was in the Army for six years. His wife is Teresa Parson. They have two grown children and five grandchildren.
According to his online state bio, he won 110 of 114 Missouri counties, making him the most popular lieutenant governor in Missouri history.
Beatty said Tuesday she is looking forward to working with him.
"Gov. Mike Parson possesses the integrity his predecessor lacked, and House Democrats will offer him whatever assistance we can as he begins the difficult task of restoring credibility to state government,” she said.
Hawley said, "I wish incoming Governor Mike Parson well, and stand ready to assist him in his transition."
(Editor’s note: Maggie Madro and Jacob Cavaiani contributed to this report.)