JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Republican leaders of the Missouri House announced Monday the formation of a committee to investigate blackmail claims against Governor Eric Greitens, while another group of Republicans has formally asked him to resign.
Greitens, also a Republican, was indicted on a felony invasion of privacy charge on Wednesday in St. Louis City Circuit Court stemming from an affair before his election in 2016.
The embattled governor is accused of blackmailing a former mistress by threatening to release a partially nude photo if she exposed the affair. Greitens has since admitted to the affair, but denied the blackmail allegations.
The indictment was made public Thursday when Greitens was booked and released on his own recognizance.
Representative Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, will lead the five-member committee comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats. Barnes gave no timetable for the committee to complete its investigation.
“This committee’s task is going to be to investigate facts,” Barnes said in a press conference Monday. “We’re going to do so in a way that is fair, thorough and timely and we’re going to do it without any preordained results.”
Barnes said the committee will question witnesses on both sides and have the full involvement of all parties. It will then produce a full report with its findings.
“We are going to continue to move forward with the substantive legislation that we’ve spent the bulk of this legislative session working on,” House Speaker Tom Richardson, a Republican, told reporters. “And yes, Representative Barnes and his committee are going to have a big task. But that is not going to deter us or limit our ability to move forward on the priorities that the people of Missouri sent us here to do.”
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner’s office had been investigating whether Greitens tried to blackmail his former mistress by taking compromising pictures of her.
The mistress’ former husband made the allegations public last month, claiming Greitens took a photograph of the bound and partially nude woman and threatened to publicize it if she exposed the affair.
The indictment alleges Greitens “transmitted the image contained in the photograph in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer.”
Greitens’ attorney immediately issued a statement calling the allegations “baseless and unfounded” and filed a motion to dismiss.
The governor later declared his innocence and claimed the indictment is a “misguided political decision” by a “reckless liberal prosecutor.”
Greitens ran as a political outsider and won with 51 percent of the vote in November 2016. His political future could hinge on his support within the GOP-dominated Legislature, some of whom he alienated with his outsider approach.
Moments after the press conference announcing the formation of the investigation committee, two Republican state lawmakers held their own press conference asking for Greitens to resign. They said they had the signatures of 12 GOP lawmakers who felt the same.
“An affair is not the reason that I ask [for his resignation],” Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, said in the press conference. “It’s all the other issues, the lying about it and running on integrity and family values only to find out those are just words and not who he is. And then when you look at the other investigations taking place, it just all plays into why I think he’s become ineffective in his job and we need to move forward.”
Greitens has been adamant about staying on as governor.