Eric Greitens, the conservative Republican governor of Missouri, has acknowledged he had an extramarital affair with a woman before becoming governor, but is denying allegations that he tried to blackmail the woman into silence.
St. Louis TV station KMOV had obtained in which the woman, his hairstylist, discussed intimate details of the relationship, which took place in 2015, and said that Greitens at one point blindfolded her and took a picture of her partly unclothed, bound, and blindfolded, which he intended to use as blackmail.
“He stepped back, I saw a flash through the blindfold, and he said, ‘You're never going to mention my name,’ otherwise there will be pictures of me everywhere,” the woman said on the recording, which was provided by her former husband, KMOV reports. The station, which broadcast the story Wednesday night, has not identified the woman, nor has the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which also obtained the audio, reportedly recorded without her permission. She declined an interview request from the Post-Dispatch.
Greitens and his wife, Sheena, issued a statement Wednesday admitting he had the affair and that the couple had dealt with it privately, the Post-Dispatch reports. They did not address the blackmail allegation, but their attorney, James F. Bennett, did.
“There was no blackmail, and that claim is false,” Bennett said in a statement, according to the Post-Dispatch. “This personal matter has been addressed by the Governor and Mrs. Greitens privately years ago when it happened. The outrageous claims of improper conduct regarding these almost three-year-ago events are false.” He followed it with an email: "No violence. No picture taken. No threat of blackmail."
Greitens has been considered a rising Republican star, but the new revelations put that status in jeopardy. He has made enemies in both parties because he has attacked many state lawmakers as corrupt, and some have called on him to resign, CNN reports.
Greitens was elected governor in 2016, besting Democrat Chris Koster. He replaced Democrat Jay Nixon, who could not run again due to term limits. Greitens positioned himself as a champion of lower taxes, gun rights, and religious freedom, which he claimed was under attack.
During the campaign, though, he was criticized as being insufficiently conservative because he opposed a bill that would prohibit the state government from penalizing “individuals and religious entities who refuse to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies due to sincerely held religious beliefs.” During a candidates’ forum, he said he agreed with the bill’s goal but thought it was the wrong way to approach the issue and could cause economic backlash, according to St. Louis Public Radio.
“Unfortunately, our career politicians have put people in Missouri in this situation where they have to choose between protecting their religious liberties or protecting their jobs,’’ he told the station in a post-forum interview. “As governor, we’re going to do both. … You sit down with the faith community, you sit down with the business community and you come up with conservative, common-sense solutions.’’
That bill did not pass, but as governor, Greitens last year signed into law a bill that critics said would make it nearly impossible for Missourians to win discrimination suits. It “will require workers who claim discrimination in wrongful-termination suits to prove that bias was the explicit reason they were fired,” The Kansas City Star reported in June. “The current standard requires only that dismissed workers prove that bias merely was a contributing factor.” It also limits punitive damages. Missouri law does not prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination.