JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – In a shocking reversal, embattled Missouri Governor Eric Greitens said Tuesday he will resign effective at the end of the week amid a scandal involving an affair and criminal charges.
Greitens, a Republican, is currently facing a felony computer tampering charge in St. Louis Circuit Court based on allegations his campaign used a charity donor list.
He was also facing an invasion of privacy charge stemming from claims that he blackmailed a former mistress during an affair he admitted to. Prosecutors dropped that charge at the beginning of trial after the judge ruled that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner could be called as a witness. They said they plan to refile the charge with a special prosecutor.
In addition, a special committee in the Missouri House of Representatives has been investigating Greitens’ actions and lawmakers called a special session to debate his impeachment.
“The last few months have been incredibly difficult, for me, for my family, for my team, for my friends and for many, many people that I love,” Greitens said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “This ordeal has been designed to cause an incredible amount of strain on my family, millions of dollars in mounting legal bills, endless personal attacks designed to cause maximum damage to family and friends.”
Greitens continued to assert the charges and investigations were politically motivated.
“I cannot allow those forces to continue to cause pain and difficulty to the people I love,” Greitens said. “I know, and people of good faith know, that I am not perfect. But I have not broken any laws or committed any offense worthy of this treatment. I will let the fairness of this process be judged by history.”
He finished by saying, “This is not the end of our fight. I will always be a fighter for the people of Missouri.”
Greitens left without taking questions from reporters.
Lieutenant Governor Michael L. Parson will be sworn in once the resignation takes effect on Friday at 5 p.m.. He will become the 57th governor of Missouri.
In a statement, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gardner said she has had discussions with members of Greitens’ defense team over the last couple of days and that they have reached “a fair and just resolution on the pending charges.” Gardner said more information will be provided Wednesday.
In a joint statement with Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr and Majority Leader Rob Vescovo, Missouri Speaker of the House Todd Richardson said the governor did what was best for Missourians by resigning.
“We believe the governor has put the best interest of Missourians first today by choosing to resign,” the Republican lawmakers 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.”
Missouri Attorney General Joshua Hawley, a fellow Republican and onetime Greitens ally, also approved of the decision.
“Governor Greitens has done the right thing today,” Hawley said. “I wish incoming Governor Mike Parson well, and stand ready to assist him in his transition. This office’s work for the people of Missouri goes forward.”
Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, said Missouri politics took a step backwards under Greitens.
"Corruption in state government became worse than ever under Eric Greitens,” Galloway said. “That corruption must be cleaned up, and our state's reputation must be restored. This can only happen if leaders put the needs of Missourians ahead of themselves."
Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis, took exception to Greitens’ claims of innocence.
“Innocent people don’t resign and criminals don’t get let off the hook simply because they cut and run,” Walsh said. “Missourians deserve to know what laws were broken, what lies were told, and how deep the corruption went.”
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said her party will offer Parson, a Republican, whatever assistance he needs.
“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,” McCann Beatty said. “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.”
Greitens' resignation comes hours after a Cole County judge ruled that Greitens and his associates have to comply with two different subpoenas issued by the special House committee.
The committee formed to investigate Greitens’ actions is seeking information about the nonprofit A New Missouri and Greitens’ political campaign. The results of the committee’s investigation could have lead to the governor’s impeachment.
Greitens’ attorneys sought to quash the subpoenas, saying they were too sweeping and amounted to a fishing expedition.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem was unswayed in a six-page order, finding the requests were within the authority of the House committee.
"The court further finds and believes that time is of the essence and production should begin immediately and, absent good cause shown, said production should be completed by June 1, 2018," Beetem wrote in Tuesday’s ruling.
Under the ruling, A New Missouri will have to turn over receipts of paid media, content of paid media and related communications. The nonprofit will also have to turn over communications with Greitens and his campaign.
Members of the House committee have said they believe the Greitens campaign and its associates may have actively worked to conceal the identity of donors, which is a campaign finance violation.
"The requestor committee has a mandate to investigate the allegations against Governor Greitens," Beetem’s ruling states. "While this is a broad mandate, so are the grounds for impeachment. The court finds the requests are within the authority of the requestor."
Catherine Hanaway, a Greitens attorney, said in a statement that Beetem’s ruling was not a surprise after the House narrowed the scope of what it was seeking.
She said she was pleased that Beetem is allowing A New Missouri to redact the names of donors to protect their identities and that they are considering their options for appeal.
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