STLtoday: Missouri mega-donor calls on Greitens to step down

JEFFERSON CITY • Amid a scramble by lawmakers to decide whether and how to remove Gov. Eric Greitens from office, a top donor to the embattled Republican joined a growing list of lawmakers and political leaders calling on the governor to resign.

In a statement issued Thursday, Joplin businessman David Humphreys said he was deeply disappointed by the actions of the governor described in a blistering report issued Wednesday.

The House report found that Greitens hit, groped and coerced sexual behavior out of a woman he admitted to having an affair with in 2015. 

“While these actions took place before his election and are otherwise arguably a private matter, the testimony reveals behavior that should not be tolerated anywhere but especially not by those holding public office,” Humphreys said. “Governor Greitens should resign as these new revelations describe behavior that makes it impossible to retain confidence in his ability to govern wisely and well.”

Greitens, who received more than $2 million from the Humphreys family during his 2016 run for governor, said Wednesday that he would not resign and repeatedly derided the report as a “witch hunt.”

On Thursday, a public relations firm representing Greitens issued a statement saying, in part: “The House report contained explosive, hurtful allegations of coercion, violence, and assault. They are false. Those allegations can be refuted with facts” that, the governor said, would come out at his criminal trial scheduled for May 14.

Humphreys’ comments came after a top Senate Republican called for the governor to leave office and another Senate Republican declared the situation an “emergency” because Greitens has adamantly refused to resign.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, who holds the No. 2 leadership post in the Legislature’s upper chamber, said the governor had lost the “moral authority” to lead the state.

“Should the governor choose not to resign, I am persuaded that he has not only burned bridges, he has blown them up to where it will be impossible for him to effectively lead the state going forward,” Kehoe said in a statement. “Remaining in office reeks of the self-serving actions of a ‘career politician’ the governor has mockingly derided since his inauguration.”

But he stopped short of saying Greitens should be impeached. Sen. Scott Sifton, D-south St. Louis County, asked Kehoe if the House’s report contained enough impeachable information in his mind.

“I still think we need to have two sides of the story before you say yes to that,” Kehoe said, referring to Greitens’ refusal to answer the House investigative committee’s questions.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, a frequent critic of the governor, called on President Donald Trump to intervene in the state’s situation.

“President Trump, I’m speaking to you,” he said on the Senate floor Thursday. “We have an emergency here in Missouri. I believe that there is one person who could get this soldier to stand down. He’s trained as a Navy SEAL. He’s trained not to walk away from battle. But he is also trained to listen to his Commander-in-Chief. If you give him the order, if you tell him to stand down, I believe that he will.”

Schaaf said the governor’s remaining in office would cost the state money, as House leaders have signaled they’ll convene a special session to continue investigating and potentially impeach Greitens.

If lawmakers agree to a special session, they will continue receiving their daily expense checks, which amount to $115.60 per day. If all members are present for the special session, it would cost nearly $24,000 per day. They also are reimbursed for mileage, which would add to the overall cost.

Debate on the Greitens report dominated action Thursday in the Senate.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, stopped short of calling on Greitens to resign. But Richard said his wife, Patty, had read the 24-page report. “She was disgusted,” Richard said. “Those words — spanking, hitting — you can’t defend those actions.”

He also criticized Greitens’ response to the report, in which the governor said the committee’s work was a “witch hunt.”

He said the scandal had taken a toll on House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.

“Have you seen the guy? Have you guys seen the speaker? I mean this guy has lost 20 pounds. He’s probably smoking 20 packs of cigarettes. And he’s taking this job very seriously,” Richard said. “I back him up 100 percent.”

While GOP leaders are eyeing a special session on impeachment after the regular session ends May 18, Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said there was no reason to wait because Attorney General Josh Hawley said Wednesday the report had findings that were of an impeachable nature.

“I have no faith in that man,” Walsh said of the governor.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, said the details in the report were difficult to read as a person who had experienced sexual harassment.

“I started going through the documentation that was offered, and honestly I couldn’t get through it,” she said. “It was really hard for me to get through it. I had to take breaks.”

Other female senators said Greitens was not fit for office. Walsh said the report demonstrated a “predatory nature.”

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, agreed.

“What we see in the report is a textbook case of an abuser,” she said.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, questioned whether the governor should be the final voice on legislation affecting the entire state under the current circumstances.

“I don’t think he needs to be signing any bills,” Nasheed said. “In fact, I don’t think he should be here. He shouldn’t even have the authority to sign anything. If he cannot rule his house, will he be able to rule this government? I say no.”

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, joined the chorus of Missouri officeholders questioning Greitens’ ability to remain in office.

“I am disgusted, disheartened, and I believe Governor Greitens is unfit to lead our state,” she said in a written statement.

The impact on the governor’s official duties during this crisis may have been illustrated Thursday when the Trump administration announced it would meet Friday with farm-state governors and members of Congress worried about the impact of Trump’s trade war threats with China. Those threats have rattled soybean and other markets for Missouri and other farm-state producers.

The Republican governors of neighboring Iowa and Nebraska are among those invited. But Greitens — although he has ties with Vice President Mike Pence and welcomed Trump during recent visits to Missouri — was not on the invitation list released Thursday by the White House.

The special investigative committee is going to continue its work. The focus will turn from the affair to an investigation into allegations that the governor improperly used a fundraising list from his former charity, The Mission Continues, to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign.

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