Missouri Republicans have a huge problem on their hands: what to do with Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.
Greitens is facing a mountain of scandals, ranging from explosive sexual misconduct allegations to questions about where he used a donor list of his veterans charity to ask for campaign donations when he ran for governor in 2016. Throughout it all, he’s vowed he will not step down, even as numerous lawmakers from both parties have implored him to do so.
That means lawmakers have one option: impeachment.
Missouri has never impeached a sitting governor before; lawmakers impeached one former Democratic secretary of state named Judi Moriarty in 1994. The process for a impeachment of a governor or Supreme Court justice is an entirely separate process from impeachment of other executive officials, involving a panel of seven judges to hand down a verdict. But lawmakers are struggling in the Greitens case because the governor’s sexual misconduct scandal and donor list flap both happened before he took office. Moriarty, on the other hand, was impeached for something she did while in office.
The question of whether a sitting governor can be impeached for transgressions committed before holding office is a legally ambiguous one — and Greitens could be the test case.
There are scandals ... and then there are Eric Greitens’s scandals
Greitens is facing scandals and investigations on a number of fronts. Most well known are the allegations of sexual misconduct and blackmail that first surfaced in February. Since then, Greitens has been indicted on a felony charge of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking naked photos of a woman as blackmail, which carries up to four years of prison time. He was led away by the St. Louis sheriff’s office and is facing a court case in the matter next month.
Last week, a bipartisan group of Missouri lawmakers released an investigative report detailing disturbing allegations against the governor by the woman, with whom he maintains he had a consensual affair. Her story was much different; she told lawmakers Greitens coerced her into unwanted and nonconsensual oral sex, took a naked photo of her tied up and blindfolded as blackmail, and slapped her on multiple occasions. Lawmakers said they found the woman’s testimony credible.
Then on Tuesday, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley (a Republican candidate for US Senate) announced his office has discovered evidence that Greitens may have committed a felony by using a donor list of his veterans charity to ask for donations leading up to his 2016 campaign for governor.
Hawley’s office has not yet filed formal charges, but the AG reiterated his call for Greitens to step down or face impeachment by the Missouri legislature.
But with all of that, Greitens is definitely not planning to step down. He’s called the investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations, which was led by members of his own party, a “political witch hunt” and released a defiant statement in response to Hawley on Tuesday.
Then on Wednesday, the governor filed a temporary restraining order against Hawley, an attempt to stop the AG from investigating him, according to local television station KRCG reporter Ashley Zavala. The argument from Greitens and his lawyers is that because Hawley has already called for the governor’s resignation, he can’t investigate him impartially and therefore must step down from the case.
Governor Eric Greitens' restraining order against MO Attorney General Josh Hawley aims to stop Hawley from investigating him.— Ashley Zavala KRCG (@ZavalaA) April 18, 2018
Also wants a special prosecutor appointed for investigation into The Mission Continues. pic.twitter.com/PR4m7bGaE4
Missouri Republicans and Democrats alike have pleaded with Greitens to step down, especially after the disturbing report detailing his alleged conduct with the woman.
“He’s a classic sociopath,” one Missouri Republican who requested anonymity to speak freely told me last week. “I’m not saying that ironically; he is literally not a balanced, normal personality. He’s almost incapable of embarrassment, like Bill Clinton was.”
With Greitens unwilling to go, that means it’s entirely up to Missouri lawmakers to pursue impeachment. It’s likely the governor and his attorneys will fight this tooth and nail, especially with the legal questions about whether they can impeach a sitting governor for allegations of crimes committed before taking office.
How Missouri impeachment actually works
The Missouri Constitution says executive officials can be impeached “for crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office.”
The Associated Press’s David Lieb interviewed former Missouri House Speaker Steve Gaw, who served on Moriarty’s impeachment panel back in 1994, asking whether the same standard could apply to Greitens. Gaw admitted he didn’t have a good answer.
“This [impeachment] provision can be read a couple of different ways, kind of depending upon how you construct that sentence, which I think is going to lead to a legal argument about whether or not this is an impeachable offense under the constitution,” Gaw told Lieb. “It’s a question that hasn’t been answered by the Missouri courts.”
The Missouri House is the legislative body that has to act first, by voting on articles of impeachment. But from there, the process gets trickier. It typically would be up to the Missouri Supreme Court to decide whether to impeach most other executive officials ... but there is an entirely different process for governors.
In that case, the state Senate has to select a panel of seven “eminent jurists” (judges) to hear impeachment proceedings and decide whether to impeach the governor, according to the state Constitution. At least five of the seven judges must vote in favor of impeachment in order for the governor to actually be removed.
In Greitens’s case, it could be made even more complicated by the Missouri legislative calendar this year. If the House decides to get the ball rolling on impeachment, it likely won’t do so until the regular legislative session ends on May 18 — four days after Greitens goes to court on the felony charge of invasion of privacy. And potential impeachment proceedings could stretch on well beyond that.
That is bad news for the man in Missouri who wants Greitens gone the most: Attorney General Hawley, who is planning to mount a US Senate challenge to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Hawley has been one of the most vocal Republicans in the state calling on Greitens to step down or be impeached. The longer the governor hangs on, the more of a drag it is on Hawley’s campaign.
And unless impeachment proceedings can start soon — and actually be successful — Greitens doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Correction: This article originally said Greitens was facing up to seven years in prison. Thanks to when the alleged crime took place, in 2015, he is only facing four years.