JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House formed a special panel of seven lawmakers on Monday to investigate Gov. Eric Greitens following an invasion-of-privacy charge alleging he took a nonconsensual photo of a woman in a compromising position.
The committee, which will have subpoena powers, will determine whether to initiate impeachment proceedings against the Republican governor to try to remove him from office. Its work will be separate from the criminal proceedings in St. Louis.
Committee Chairman Jay Barnes pledged a “fair, thorough and timely” investigation “without any pre-ordained results.”
“Our focus is going to be on the underlying facts of the indictment and the circumstances surrounding it,” said Barnes, a Jefferson City attorney.
An indictment handed down Thursday alleges Greitens took a photo of a woman “in a state of full or partial nudity” without her consent and transmitted it in a way that allowed access by a computer. The alleged incident occurred in March 2015, as Greitens was preparing to run for governor.
Greitens has acknowledged having an affair in 2015 with his former hairdresser but hasn’t directly answered questions about whether he bound the woman’s hands, blindfolded her and took a photo while warning her to remain silent about their sexual encounter — as the woman alleged in a conversation that her then-husband secretly recorded.
In court Monday, St. Louis prosecutors told a judge that the investigation could broaden to include matters beyond the allegations of invasion of privacy, but did not elaborate. That claim, during a hearing that was not on the St. Louis Circuit Court docket, drew an angry response from Greitens’ legal team, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“Once you have an indictment, that’s it,” said Jack Garvey, a former judge and member of Greitens’ defense team.
Circuit Judge Rex Burlison set a tentative trial date of May 14. But a spokeswoman for St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said the office will continue to push for a later trial.
Greitens’ attorneys have requested that the indictment be dismissed.
At the Capitol, some lawmakers sought to encourage Greitens to resign before either the criminal proceedings or House investigation has concluded.
Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan, who had not previously called for Greitens’ resignation, joined Rep. Marsha Haefner in a press conference saying they had collected the signatures of about a dozen GOP House members on a letter calling on Greitens to resign. But the two St. Louis-area Republicans declined to identify the other lawmakers or to release the letter.
“It is hard to see how he can be an effective governor or leader of the Missouri Republican Party while fighting a criminal case,” Dogan said.
Greitens has vowed to continue working. The governor’s office released photos of Greitens consoling people Monday and touring damage from tornadoes that struck the rural southeastern Missouri communities of Malden and Matthews over the weekend.
Later Monday, the House voted 149-1 to pass legislation making it a felony to disseminate — or threaten to disseminate — private sexual images. Lawmakers didn’t mention Greitens during a brief discussion about the bill, but some stressed that the legislation also had been proposed last year. The allegations against Greitens didn’t become public until this past January.
Attorneys for Greitens have said he looks forward to the legislative investigation.
The House investigatory committee will consist of five Republicans and two Democrats and will begin its work this week. The vice chairman will be Republican Rep. Don Phillips, a former Highway Patrol officer from Kimberling City.
The other committee members are Republican Rep. Jeanie Lauer, a Blue Springs businesswoman; Rep. Kevin Austin, a Springfield attorney who is the assistant House majority leader; Republican Rep. Shawn Rhoads, a former police officer from West Plains; Democratic Rep. Gina Mitten, a Richmond Heights lawyer who is the assistant House minority leader; and Democratic Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., a pastor and teacher from St. Louis.
About 100 protesters gathered Monday outside a St. Louis courthouse to show support for Gardner, the prosecutor who announced the grand jury indictment, after Greitens issued a statement last week alleging that the indictment was politically motivated. The statement referred to Gardner, a Democrat, as a “reckless liberal prosecutor.”
The Rev. Darryl Gray, one of the protest leaders, said the statement by Greitens had racial undertones.
“Any time you have black leadership that stands up and challenges the status quo, the first thing that com is character assassination,” Gray said.