Missouri legislators begin weighing impeachment of governor

(Reuters) – Missouri legislators convened to weigh the possible impeachment of Governor Eric Greitens, who has been embroiled in separate sex and fundraising scandals that have led to mounting pressure for his resignation.

The Republican-controlled Missouri General Assembly began a special session in Jefferson City, Missouri, the state capital, to consider what disciplinary steps to take against the first-term Republican governor, including impeachment, after hearing the recommendations of a special House of Representatives investigative panel.

Greitens has vowed to remain in office while he fights to clear his name. No Missouri governor has ever been impeached.

Greitens, a 44-year-old former Navy SEAL commando once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, was previously charged with felony invasion of privacy in connection with an admitted extramarital affair in 2015 with a hairdresser before he was elected. He has said he is innocent, the relationship was consensual and he was the subject of a political witch hunt.

On Monday, however, St. Louis prosecutors dropped the charge before his trial got under way after a state judge agreed to allow the defense to call as a witness Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis Kim Gardner, a Democrat whom defense attorneys accused of misconduct. Prosecutors said they would refile the case.

Greitens was accused of taking a photo of his lover in a state of undress without her consent and making it accessible by computer to use as retaliation should she divulge their relationship. He has denied threatening to blackmail her and his attorneys have noted the alleged photograph has never been produced.

Meanwhile, the governor faces a separate trial on an unrelated charge of computer tampering. St. Louis prosecutors allege he obtained and transmitted a donor list from a military veterans charity he founded in 2007, without the charity’s consent, to aid his political fundraising.

Greitens’ attorney has called the charge “absurd” and said his client is innocent.

In Cole County, which also received information on the case, prosecutor Mark Richardson said on Friday he had decided not to file a criminal charge. Jefferson City is in Cole County.

State officials expect the special House investigative committee, formed in February to examine misconduct allegations against Greitens, to complete its work and present a final report to the Assembly during the special session, which began at 6:30 p.m. local time (2330 GMT) Friday and could last 30 days. The House and Senate are expected to complete their action on the panel’s findings in that time frame.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, among others, has said that findings presented in the House committee’s initial report on April 11, detailing allegations of sexual coercion and physical abuse by Greitens, were grounds for impeachment.

The Missouri Constitution counts “moral turpitude,” among other things, as impeachable conduct.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; editing by Bill Rigby, Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)