ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis grand jury on Thursday indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge for allegedly taking a compromising photo of a woman with whom he had an affair in 2015. The Republican governor responded that he made a mistake but committed no crime.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner launched an investigation in January after Greitens admitted to an affair with his St. Louis hairdresser that began in March 2015. He was elected governor in November 2016.
Thursday’s indictment was followed with an announcement by House Republican leaders that they were forming a group of lawmakers to investigate the charges “and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward.”
In a statement following the indictment , the Republican governor was defiant and attacked the prosecutor who brought the charge.
“As I have said before, I made a personal mistake before I was Governor,” he said. “I did not commit a crime. With today’s disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken. I know this will be righted soon. The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points.”
Greitens’ attorney, in a separate statement, called the indictment “baseless and unfounded.”
“In 40 years of public and private practice, I have never seen anything like this,” attorney Edward L. Dowd Jr. said.
Gardner’s spokeswoman, Susan Ryan, responded: “Despite the Governor’s personal attacks, the Circuit Attorney believes the courtroom is the appropriate place to argue the facts, not the media.”
Greitens’ legal team immediately filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that any relationship with the woman was consensual.
Some lawmakers renewed suggestions that Greitens should consider resigning, as they had done when the affair first become public last month.
Democratic state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis called for an impeachment process to begin immediately.
“Gov. Greitens has to go,” Nasheed said. “Missourians thought they voted for a person of character and integrity, and instead they got a liar and alleged criminal.”
Any impeachment process must begin in the House with an investigation.
The joint statement from House Speaker Todd Richardson, Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr and Majority Leader Rob Vescovo did not specifically mention impeachment while noting that they were initiating an investigation.
The indictment states that on March 21, 2015, Greitens photographed a woman identified only by her initials “in a state of full or partial nudity” without her knowledge or consent. The indictment said Greitens “transmitted the image contained in the photograph in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer.”
In 2015, the woman told her husband, who was secretly taping the conversation, that Greitens took the compromising photo of her at his home and threatened to use it as blackmail if she spoke about the affair.
The penalty for first-degree invasion of privacy in Missouri is a sentence of up to four years behind bars.
Greitens was taken into custody in St. Louis and released on his own recognizance. He is due in court for his first hearing on March 16, before Circuit Judge Rex Burlison.
Greitens has repeatedly denied blackmailing the woman, but has repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether he took a photo.
The indictment came about a month before the statute of limitations would have run out. The statute of limitations for invasion of privacy in Missouri is three years.
Ryan, asked if additional charges could be filed, said the matter is still under investigation. Several lawmakers were questioned last week by investigators from Gardner’s office.
Greitens, the 43-year-old father of two young boys, came into office as a political outsider, a brash Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL officer who was wounded in Iraq, emerging as the winner in a crowded and expensive GOP primary.
A former boxer and martial arts expert, he has embraced the role of maverick. He responded to a Democratic attack ad in the fall of 2016 with one of his own in which he fired more than 100 rounds from a machine gun as an announcer declared he’d bring out “the big guns” to fight Democratic policies championed by then-President Barack Obama.
Greitens surprised many experts by defeating Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the November 2016 election. Some saw him as a rising Republican star with potential presidential aspirations.
But governing hasn’t always been easy, even though Republicans now control both houses as well as the governor’s mansion. Greitens and GOP lawmakers have often clashed, with him comparing some to third-graders and labeling them “career politicians.”
He has also faced questions about so-called “dark money” campaign contributions and criticism for stacking the state board of education. His use of a secretive app that deletes messages is under investigation by Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Greitens’ charity, The Mission Continues, faced scrutiny during the campaign when Democrats accused him of insider politics for accessing the donor list to raise about $2 million through its top contributors.
AP reporters Summer Ballentine, David A. Lieb and Blake Nelson in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.