Editorial: Gov. Greitens' affair wasn't criminal, but extortion and coercion would be

The Kansas City Star Editorial Board, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Op Eds

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has admitted to an affair, and politicians have been known to survive those. But that might not be the best way to describe his relationship with the hairdresser whose ex-husband has released an audio recording of her talking about their first encounter, just six months before the former Navy SEAL announced he was running for the office he now holds. On the tape, she says he invited her to his family home, blindfolded her, duct taped her hands to a piece of exercise equipment and took a naked photo of her that he threatened would "go everywhere" if she ever went public.

Greitens and his wife issued a joint statement that his infidelity is between them and God. Them, God and the injured parties, maybe. Including the voters who were told hundreds of times about his record as a stand-up family guy.

Only the governor's real problem is that his unfaithfulness is not the point, as much as he would like it to be.

Because while cheating on his wife is not against the law, extortion and coercion are, and other aspects of what's been alleged might be, too.

Missouri has no law against revenge porn but does have a law against invasion of privacy that could apply. Our state's version of an extortion statute outlaws "stealing by coercion." If he did duct tape her to a piece of exercise equipment, that could involve false imprisonment and/or battery.

The governor, through his lawyer, has denied that he took a photo, threatened blackmail or was ever violent in any way. But the bottom line is that we do not yet know exactly what happened. Which is why, unlike some state lawmakers, we're not calling for his resignation or impeachment, at least until we know more.

The public absolutely does, however, need and deserve the criminal investigation that Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has said she's launching. In fact, that's the only piece of good news here, because it's up to police to find out what laws, if any, were broken. The Missouri House should investigate, too, which it has the power to do.

The governor seems to put the onus for any problems going forward on the fact that "there will be some people who cannot forgive." His wife Sheena asks "the media and those who wish to peddle gossip to stay away from me and my children." This isn't mere "gossip," though, but a potential crime and certain breach of public as well as private trust.

Greitens should welcome the police investigation. Because if he broke no law, he more than anyone needs the public to hear that from a more credible source than his own lips have proven to be. And though there's a high bar for libeling or defaming a public figure, making false allegations is also against the law.

Al Watkins, the St. Louis attorney representing the woman's husband, says he's been talking to the FBI about the allegations "since October of '16 through today." Which does not necessarily mean they've launched a formal investigation.

Greitens has acknowledged the truth of some of what the woman, who didn't know her husband was taping her, said to him in that anguished conversation in March of 2015, just two days after their first encounter, according to Watkins.


If everything she said on the tape is true, she's been photographed and taped against her wishes by both her former lover and her former husband.

But part of what she told her husband, Greitens insists through his own attorney, is not true: "The governor denies that the picture was taken and denies stating the words attributed to him by her on the recording. Any allegation of violence is completely false ... This was a consensual relationship that lasted multiple months and was years ago before Eric was elected governor."

"Years ago" sounds so distant, though it's technically accurate. It was three years ago, to be exact, before the older of Greitens' two sons had celebrated his first birthday.

The ability to survive a scandal often comes down to how deep a reservoir of goodwill the scandalizer has to draw on, and in Greitens' case, there's barely a drop, even among his fellow Republicans.

There's a reason for that. He's frequently accused his colleagues of being corrupt, even while depending on dark money, obscuring the identity of donors to his inauguration and overseeing a team that uses the digital equivalent of disappearing ink.

Republican Sen. Gary Romine is right that, "The only way we can remove this cloud is to get all the facts." He's right, too, that the investigation needs to be complete, but also accomplished quickly, because as long as it's still going on, state business will in many ways remain on hold. "If it exonerates him, we can move on. If it doesn't, he needs to resign or face impeachment."

And if -- if -- he's found to have committed a crime, then yes, he does.

(c)2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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