ST. LOUIS (CN) — St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said Thursday she will launch a criminal investigation into whether Gov. Eric Greitens blackmailed a former mistress.
Gardner announced the investigation Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the allegations came to light.
Greitens, a Republican and Missouri’s first Jewish governor, rocked the Republican-dominated Legislature Wednesday night by an extramarital affair, while denying the blackmail allegations.
“It is essential for residents of the City of St. Louis and our state to have confidence in their leaders,” Gardner said in a statement. “They must know that the Office of the Circuit Attorney will hold public officials accountable in the same manner as any other resident of our city. Both parties and the people of St. Louis deserve a thorough investigation of these allegations.”
A bipartisan group of senators called on Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, to investigate. But Hawley’s office said Gardner’s office has jurisdiction, since the incident allegedly occurred at Greiten’s home in the Central West End area of St. Louis.
The scandal began Wednesday in a story on St. Louis television station KMOV, Channel 4.
It quoted a man who provided a recording of his then-wife telling him that Greitens had partially undressed her, taped her to exercise equipment, took her photo and then threatened to release the photo if she ever told anyone about the encounter.
“You’re never going to mention my name,” Greitens told the woman, according to her account on the recording. “Otherwise, this picture will be everywhere.”
Greitens’ attorney James Bennett told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the allegations were false and were politically motivated.
“Any allegation of violence is completely false,” Bennett said. “It never happened. There was never any violence. This was a consensual relationship that lasted multiple months and was years ago, before Eric was elected governor.”
Bennett told the paper that Greitens is considering filing a lawsuit in response to the claims, and that the governor will not use taxpayer dollars to assemble his legal team.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, campaigned last November as a political outsider not beholden to special interest groups.
House Republicans met behind closed doors in a basement hearing room Thursday morning in the Capitol to discuss the allegations.
“We talked about the fact that there are two families who have been impacted negatively,” Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, told the Post-Dispatch. “Everybody was obviously disappointed — at a minimum — for him having an affair.”
On Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said it was too early to call on the governor to resign.
“I think the allegations against the governor are very disturbing,” she said. “We are very concerned about that. But at this point in time, you know, I think our concerns are with his family and I think we just need to wait and see.”