Governor Accused Of Blackmail Tied To 2 Others Accused Of Sexual Misconduct

A woman says now-Gov. Eric Greitens took a naked photo of her during a consensual sexual encounter.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican who stands accused of blackmailing a woman with whom he admitted to having an affair, worked closely during his campaign with two other men accused of sexual misconduct.

Jimmy Soni and Kaj Larsen provided communications and campaign support for Greitens, respectively. The political newcomer defeated Democratic candidate for governor Chris Koster in 2016 largely on a platform of ethics reform

Soni, a former HuffPost managing editor, worked for Greitens as his administration’s top communications adviser for around three months in early 2017, leaving his post quietly with no announcement. Months later, he drew subsequent checks for communications work from Greitens’ campaign fund totaling about $8,000, Riverfront Times reported

Soni began working at HuffPost in 2012 before leaving the company in May 2014 following an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct involving multiple women, two sources familiar with the situation said. A Gawker report published in September of that year referenced an exchange between Soni and several editors, as told by a former staffer, in which Soni joked about using the publication’s editorial fellowship program to “find myself a wife.” In another report, a woman said she had a consensual sexual relationship with Soni when she was an 18-year-old intern and he had already been made managing editor. Other women said he had a habit of flirting with young female staffers.

His appointment to Greitens’ administration in late 2016 drew sharp criticism from Democrats over the accusations. 

Larsen, Greitens’ best friend during their service as Navy SEALs, campaigned for his friend during the tail end of Missouri’s 2016 gubernatorial race, speaking about their work on the veterans nonprofit The Mission Continues. The pair helped launch the group in 2007.

A post shared by Kaj Larsen (@kajlarsen) on

In late 2017, sexual misconduct allegations against him surfaced from his time at Vice News, where he worked as the company’s Los Angeles bureau chief. A Vice producer, Phoebe Barghouty, told The Daily Beast about a series of unwanted sexual advances, saying Larsen would touch her on her lower back or bare thigh and asked her to accompany him to parties in Hollywood Hills. Once, he passed out in her car after becoming very drunk and bringing up sex, she said. 

KMOV, a St. Louis CBS affiliate, obtained a recording of a woman saying she had a sexual encounter with Greitens and that he had threatened to use a naked photograph of her as blackmail in 2015. According to the woman, who remains anonymous, Greitens taped her hands and blindfolded her before taking the picture.

The station says the woman’s ex-husband provided the recording, but she has not confirmed its authenticity. The couple divorced in 2016. 

The ex-husband’s lawyer, Albert Watkins, confirmed to HuffPost another claim his client has made against the governor: Watkins’ client says his ex-wife told him Greitens slapped her after she told him she had sex with her then-husband.

Greitens admitted to being “unfaithful” in his marriage on Wednesday night through a statement issued jointly with his wife, Sheena. 

“A few years ago, before Eric was elected Governor, there was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage,” the statement read. “This was a deeply personal mistake. Eric took responsibility, and we dealt with this together honestly and privately.”

Through an attorney, however, the governor denied any blackmail attempt or violence, calling the claims made in KMOV’s story “outrageous.”

“Any allegation of violence is completely false. It never happened,” attorney James Bennett said in a statement. “There was never any violence. Anything reported otherwise is untrue and we will explore pursuing all legal action. This was a consensual relationship that lasted multiple months and was years ago before Eric was elected Governor.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated Kaj Larsen was fired after sexual harassment accusations were published by The Daily Beast, but he had already left the company. The headline has also been revised to avoid the implication that Larsen or Soni were accused of physical abuse.