Gov. Eric Greitens resigns, continues to deny allegations

Screenshot of Gov. Eric Greitens’ press conference on May 29, 2018 in Jefferson City.

By Eric Berger, staff writer

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, the first Jewish person to ever hold that office, has resigned effective June 1 following a brief term filled with allegations of unethical and illegal conduct.

The resignation announcement came as Greitens was in the midst of two possible trials on felony charges and impeachment proceedings related to a 2015 extramarital affair and use of a donor list connected to his charitable organization, The Mission Continues.

“The last few months have been incredibly difficult for me, for my family, for my team, for my friends and for many, many people,” Greitens, a Republican former Navy SEAL said during a press conference in Jefferson City on Tuesday afternoon. He described the “ordeal” as “legal harassment” and said it was “designed to cause an incredible amount of strain on my family.”

Lawmakers in his own party and at least one major former donor had urged Greitens to resign in the months since allegations emerged that he had taken a partially-nude photo of his mistress without her consent and threatened to use it against her if she revealed the affair.

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Greitens admitted the affair but continued to deny any other improper conduct. He had labeled the ongoing investigations a “witch hunt.”

“I have not broken any laws or committed any offense worthy of this treatment,” he said. “I will let the fairness of this process be judged by history.”

Even before he was elected governor, some had speculated that Greitens had presidential ambitions. He had the backing of groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition, which described him as “family” after the affair allegations emerged. A spokesperson from RJC did not respond to a request for comment after the resignation announcement.

Greitens appeared to win over more fans in the Jewish community after the February 2017 vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery when he organized a clean up that attracted more than 1,000 people, including Vice President Mike Pence.

But Greitens lost support, including in his own party, because of alleged unethical conduct — such as using an app to delete text messages from members of his administration — and following a report that contained testimony that he had been abusive towards his former mistress.

“In some sense, we take pride in the achievements of any one of our people who accomplishes great things, and we feel a sense of shame when things like this happen,” said Andrew Rehfeld, president and CEO of Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

A number of Jewish Democrat legislators in Jefferson City had expressed issues with Greitens, which they said extended beyond simple disagreements over policy or the affair.

“The way he has tried to elevate himself is by casting aspersions on everyone around him,” said State Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur. “And even in his resignation today, I don’t hear a man taking responsibility for his actions; I see him pushing off the things he has done as if there are people out to get him. He is the person who created this situation that we see happening — not the rest of us.”

Lt. Gov. Mike Parsons, a Republican former sheriff from Bolivar, will become governor for the remainder of Greitens term, which runs until January 2021.

“He is a nice person at least,” Schupp said of Parsons. “I believe he and I see the world very differently and have different ideas about what is good public policy, but I don’t have concerns about his door being open and him being available.”

The resignation will end the impeachment proceedings but Greitens still faces a charge that he had misused a donor list connected to his organization to raise money for his political campaign. The organization helps veterans in adjusting to civilian life after their service.

Following news of the resignation, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who pursued invasion of privacy charges against Greitens related to the alleged photograph, released a statement saying that her office has “reached a fair and just resolution of the pending charges” with Greitens’ attorneys.

But Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who was recently appointed as special investigator on the invasion of privacy charge — in place of Gardner — released a statement saying that resignation would have no impact on her investigation.

“I want everyone to know that even though this will cancel or stop the impeachment proceedings that were ongoing, that the criminal investigations are still there,” said State Rep. Stacey Newman, a Jewish Democrat from Richmond Heights. “You had the two outstanding indictments…There’s still a criminal element here.”

Elsewhere in the Jewish community, many rabbis declined to comment on the resignation.

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of United Hebrew noted that she was shocked, but beyond that said she had nothing to add. Rabbi Noah Arnow of Kol Rinah said that since the governor was leaving office at 5 p.m. Friday, “I hope he will have a peaceful and restful Shabbat.”

Rabbi Carnie Rose of Congregation B’nai Amoona was more forthcoming.

“Whether the allegations were corroborated or accurate or not, it continued to sully the governor and also jaundice the entire political process on significant issues of the day that need to be addressed,” said Rose. However, he did not think that Greitens’ religion would affect how the public viewed Judaism or Jewish politicians.

“If you’re an anti-Semite, you’re already an anti-Semite, this won’t send you over the edge,” said Rose. “It’s an embarrassment and unfortunate for our state but it was necessary for him to resign to re-establish some normalcy and get back to the business of running our state effectively.”

Editor Ellen Futterman and Staff Writer Sam Mosher contributed information to this story.