Woman at center of Greitens story asks for privacy; Greitens asks lawmakers for forgiveness

Saturday , January 13, 2018 - 2:56 PM

By Jack Suntrup and Kurt Erickson St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY • The woman at the center of possible blackmail allegations aimed at Gov. Eric Greitens asked the media and the public for privacy on Friday afternoon.

Through her attorneys at the Knight & Simpson law firm, she asked reporters to leave her alone.

“This story has taken an emotional toll on our client and she is extremely distraught that the information has been made public,” a statement from the law firm said. “It is very disappointing that her ex-husband betrayed her confidence by secretly, and without her knowledge, recording a private and deeply personal conversation and then subsequently released the recording to the media without her consent.

“She wants to remain a private citizen and does not want to be a part of this story,” the statement read. “We are asking the media and the public to continue respecting her privacy.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Eric Greitens has contacted state lawmakers to apologize for the scandal which has stalled action in the legislature and upended the Missouri political world.

Five Republican lawmakers told the Post-Dispatch that they received calls from the governor since the news of his extramarital affair — and allegations of possible blackmail — broke on Wednesday. Two of them spoke on the record. Two other lawmakers declined to comment but confirmed that they had been called.

The last spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the phone call and the dynamics playing out within the GOP ranks. That lawmaker also expressed concern about possible retribution from the governor’s team.

On Wednesday, hours after delivering his second State of the State address, Greitens admitted to a past extramarital affair in a statement first delivered to KMOV (Channel 4). The governor has subsequently denied any violence or blackmail against the woman with whom he had an affair — a defense spawned by allegations and corroborating evidence made known by her ex-husband.

The phone calls underscore the lengths Greitens, a Republican, is going to preserve his political career amidst a scandal which threatens his ability to govern. In the past, Greitens has derided his counterparts in the Legislature, at one point comparing them to third graders and calling them into Jefferson City for two special sessions last summer, which he called “summer school.”

Now, he is seeking their support. The phone calls came at the same time Greitens reportedly spoke with GOP donors in an attempt to smooth over concerns over his capabilities. The Chicago Tribune also reported that Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner pulled a campaign ad featuring the governor.

Greitens spent much of the day in the capital city, including time at the offices of A New Missouri Inc., a nonprofit established by his campaign aides to promote his agenda.

It was unclear why he was at an office that has used funds from unnamed donors to attack senators and finance pro-business proposals. Greitens did not stop to answer questions from the Post-Dispatch as he left the office via an alley exit.

He was later seen entering the Capitol.

A request for an interview with the chief executive was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has launched a criminal investigation into Greitens. In an audio recording the woman’s ex-husband said he surreptitiously made in 2015, the woman said Greitens took a compromising photo of her and said he would release it if she told anyone of their affair.

Lawmakers react

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said he received a call from the governor on Thursday. He said Greitens took ownership of the affair, but blamed political adversaries for the allegations of blackmail.

“He basically said that he did have an affair. He was sorry about that. He said other allegations about blackmail and the photograph are false,” Koenig told the Post-Dispatch. “On the points he said he did not do, he did blame Democrats.”

Koenig said he is deeply troubled by the allegations of blackmail.

“If those allegations turn out to be true, I asked that he resign,” Koenig said. “If they are not true, we need to find a way to move forward. I told him that he has damaged his ability to work with us. He’s damaged that trust.”

Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, confirmed he also received a phone call from Greitens, but he wouldn’t disclose the nature of the conversation.

“I’m not going to discuss a private phone call I had,” Christofanelli said.

Another GOP lawmaker said Greitens was noticeably angry when speaking of the allegations which he has denied.

“I could tell when he spoke of the allegations, there was anger there,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring. “His passion rose when he talked about fighting back on the allegations of criminal activity.”

A fourth Republican lawmaker told the Post-Dispatch she missed a call from Greitens and that he subsequently left a voicemail. The lawmaker asked that her name not be used in this article.

A fifth GOP lawmaker recounted a call from the governor and his wife, Sheena Greitens, on Thursday. The lawmaker spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“He said he wanted to apologize,” the lawmaker said. “He started to lash at the liberal media and Democrats, and I cut him off and I said, ‘This is a legitimate news story.‘ And I said, ‘With all due respect, your infidelity is very disappointing. And I’m disappointed and the caucus is disappointed and I think it needs to be reported on.‘”

The lawmaker said the scandal reflects poorly on “every public servant.” The lawmaker added that the Legislature is mostly made up of serious people who seek to do good.

“Most of my colleagues who are there are very serious public servants,” the lawmaker said, adding it has slowed this year’s legislative agenda. “It sets us back. We don’t know how long. We don’t know about his ability to govern, and people are upset. They’re disappointed.

“If you mention the name of someone who has had to leave because of a scandal,” the lawmaker said, “everyone in the room makes a disgusting noise and says that person better never show his face in the Capitol again. They don’t like what — how it reflects on the body.

“If Eric Greitens were a House member, he’d be gone already,” the lawmaker said.

Public appearances

On Friday, pressure also began to build publicly from Missouri’s congressional delegation, who largely stayed silent on Thursday.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told the “E.J. and Ellen Show” on KMBZ in Kansas City that the story was “unfortunate for the governor, his family, for the state in terms of any distraction that this creates.”

Pressed on the blackmail allegations, Blunt said that “the governor says he didn’t do that.” Blunt said he agreed with Attorney General Josh Hawley that it should be investigated by local prosecutors.

On Friday, Republican members of Missouri’s congressional delegation began to weigh in. U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, said:

“This report is deeply disturbing, and I am hopeful that a full and immediate investigation can be completed without further damage to the families impacted.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said, “Like a lot of Missourians, I’m still struggling to process the news of the past 24 hours. These allegations are shocking, and I’m concerned about the children who are touched by this."​

Meanwhile, Greitens is tentatively scheduled on Tuesday to make his first series of public visits since the scandal broke. As part of an effort to promote a series of tax cuts, Greitens is expected to launch a statewide tour that will hit seven communities over four days.

“It is the boldest state tax reform in America,” Greitens said in his State of the State speech Wednesday, just hours before he admitted having the affair.

He and his aides have declined to offer any specifics of his plan, but it is expected to contain some of the same elements as legislative proposals being sponsored by Koenig and Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring.

The proposal could include phasing in a 1.4 percent reduction in the state’s top tax bracket beginning in 2019. It also would decouple the state from the federal tax system by eliminating the state income tax deduction for federal income tax liability.

The plan also could reduce corporate tax rates from 6.25 percent to 4.25 percent.

Some of the lost revenue could be made up by repealing a law allowing businesses to retain a percentage of their withholding taxes.

On Friday, there were still questions about whether the tour would go on as planned with the cloud of scandal still hanging over Greitens. For example, it was not clear if a Tuesday event at Arrowhead Building Supply in St. Peters was still going to happen.

The governor’s office did not respond to repeated attempts to confirm the schedule, which includes stops in Springfield, Kansas City, Macon and Joplin.

Christofanelli said he welcomes the governor’s visit to his hometown and said the scandal should not factor into the visit.

“I think he’s going to show up and I think he’s going to talk about tax reform. I don’t see why that would be uncomfortable,” Christofanelli said. “We need to streamline our tax code. We need to find a way to reduce the tax burden for middle class Missourians,”

A visit to northeast Missouri on Friday appeared to be still on the governor’s calendar.

“As of right now, everything is still on,” said Colten Doyle, production manager at Doyle Equipment Manufacturing in Palmyra, which is hosting the visit. “With everything going on in the media, we weren’t sure.”

Chuck Raasch of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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