Just call it 50 shades of Greitens.
On Wednesday night, Eric Greitens, Missouri’s first-term Republican governor, admitted to an extramarital affair with his hair stylist before his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2016.
St. Louis CBS affiliate KMOV-TV dropped the bombshell just hours after Greitens’ annual State of the State address to the Missouri General Assembly. It quickly overshadowed the chief executive’s speech that night, consuming the attention of state lawmakers and the political journalists who cover them. Nearly 24 hours later, the ramifications are still unspooling
The most salacious detail, and what truly makes this a memorable scandal, isn’t the governor’s sexual infidelity — it’s the allegation he used a naked photo as blackmail to keep his mistress quiet.
In the report, Greitens is claimed to have invited the hair stylist to his home, then taken her downstairs, where, in a consensual act, he blindfolded the naked stylist and bound her hands with tape. Then, in audio surreptitiously taken by the stylists’ now ex-husband, she says she saw a camera flash out of the corner of her eye, at which point Greitens threatened to release her naked photo if word of the affair ever got out.
The revelation brought work in the Capitol to a standstill.
As I’ve written before, the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Greitens, a Democrat until he ran for governor, don’t exactly see eye to eye on a host of issues. The governor has strong-armed the quasi-independent State Board of Education into deposing its esteemed leader in a quest to instal a charter-school advocate in her place. He uses his power to call the legislature into special session with an abandon not seen by a Missouri governor in the 21st century.
And, most notably, his multi-million-dollar campaign is fueled by so-called super PACs that don’t have to reveal the source of their funds — a dark money scandal that has drawn the ire of many a small-government conservative in Jefferson City. These same PACs have aired attack ads against state lawmakers of Greitens’ own party, outside of election years, when the legislators are deemed to have gone too far in criticizing the governor’s agenda.
One Democratic senator has already demanded Greitens’ resignation. A Republican senator is leading a bipartisan call for Attorney General Josh Hawley, also a Republican, to launch an investigation into the governor’s alleged blackmail attempt. Curiously, Greitens is already being investigated by the same attorney general for an unrelated scandal: his office’s use of an encrypted messaging app, possibly to skirt government transparency laws.
Hawley is currently running for a United State Senate seat against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in the 2018 midterm elections. One wonders if going tough on the embattled governor will save his skin if the current administration collapses in scandal.
Some are connecting the case to the larger #MeToo movement, a cultural wave that has brought down many accused sexual deviants in media and politics. However, there is at least one key difference. The woman who alleged Greitens’ misbehavior did not consent to have her testimony released to the public. It was her ex-husband who secretly recorded her admission, then forwarded it to the Missouri media. The pre-eminent newspapers of the state, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star, both refused to run the story under the justification that doing so without the victim’s acceptance would be inappropriate.
The woman did not want to go on record against the governor, and her identity is still a secret. Was it poor journalism for the CBS affiliate to release this story when stalwart journalists balked? Possibly. But now that KMOV-TV has, there’s no taking it back. And to the station’s credit, Greitens has since confirmed the affair itself while denying the supposed act of blackmail.
Until now, Greitens had been a rising star in the Republican Party. If his website registration practices are any indication, he even harbored presidential ambitions. But whether he can still rise to higher office — or even finish his first term as governor — is in question. The disgrace is palpable. ■