With reporters jammed into his office and members of his legislature about to release a devastating report about him, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Wednesday proclaimed himself the target of a witch hunt.
He’d been smeared, he said. The report from a House investigative committee, which he hadn’t seen yet, was certain to be filled with lies, falsehoods and “one-sided tabloid trash.”
“Fake charges and falsehoods aren’t going to stop us,” he said.
If Greitens’ phrases sound a lot like the protestations of another, better-known chief executive, that’s no coincidence. Since taking office in January 2017, Missouri’s Republican governor has molded himself into a Midwestern version of Donald Trump, albeit with better hair and a more disciplined workout routine.
Greitens and Trump specialize in the same kinds of scandal and the same belief that the rules of civility, decency and even criminal conduct don’t apply to them.
A report released Wednesday by leaders of the Missouri House accuses Greitens of abhorrent treatment of a woman with whom he became involved in 2015, while the former U.S. Navy SEAL was laying the groundwork for a run for governor.
The woman, who works at a beauty salon and had cut Greitens’ hair, told members of an investigative committee that Greitens enticed her into his basement, blindfolded her, bound her hands to exercise rings, ripped her clothes open, photographed her, called her “a little whore” and coerced her into a sexual act. The committee, led by members of Greitens’ own party, said it found the woman “credible.”
A St. Louis grand jury in February indicted Greitens on felony invasion of privacy charges, alleging that he took a photo of the woman without her consent and transmitted it to a computer. His trial is set for May 14.
Greitens, who is married and the father of small children, could have spared his family and state from the release of those mortifying details with a hasty resignation once the scandal became public early this year, and perhaps with a plea to lesser charges.
But, following Trump’s example, Greitens seems determined to brazen out the storm. As he has reminded Missourians on an almost daily basis, he has seen combat. Enemies are all around, but he won’t back down.
“Since we got into office, they have attacked us every single day,” Greitens said Wednesday in his statement to the media. “This is exactly like what’s happening with the witch hunts in Washington, D.C.”
He didn’t specify who “they” were. Nor did he mention that he himself has set up a shadowy political operation, funded by anonymous donors, to stealthily attack legislators and political adversaries in Missouri.
The strategy is to deny, blame, accuse and smear the victim. Greitens’ defense team ― like Trump, he requires a phalanx of lawyers ― has suggested that his accuser is too confused to know whether she was actually photographed or if she conjured the scenario in a dream.
Like Alabama’s Roy Moore, the sexual predator who nearly got elected to the U.S. Senate a few months ago, Greitens is banking on the idea that the public will support him, that his greatness should surely overshadow a trivial “personal mistake,” which is how he terms his relationship with the hair stylist.
After all, enough voters were willing to overlook evidence of Trump’s maltreatment of women to install the man in the White House.
That didn’t hold true for Moore, though, and the odds don’t look good for Greitens at this point. Legislators from both parties seem ready to find a way to impeach him. Donors are running away. State Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is campaigning for the GOP nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in November, has called for Greitens to resign or be impeached.
Even Trump ― who was chummy with Greitens before the scandal broke ― is steering clear of the governor. The president snubbed Greitens on a recent visit to St. Louis by declining to invite the governor to a roundtable discussion about the economy.
Unlike Trump, Greitens lacks a hefty base of constituents who are ready to defend him at all costs. And compounding the governor’s troubles is the hypocrisy factor. In contrast to Trump, who made no attempt to disown his playboy reputation while running for office, Greitens proclaimed himself a paragon of virtue. He was the outsider, the Navy SEAL, the great humanitarian come home to rescue his state from lobbyists and “corrupt career politicians,” as he called Democrats and Republicans alike.
Certainly, Missouri could use some help. With no campaign contribution limits until voters demanded them a couple of years ago, its government has been co-opted by special interests and billionaire donors. Greitens had barely learned his way around the Capitol before he created a nonprofit group called A New Missouri to receive unlimited donations from anonymous sources.
The governor has been accused of running afoul of state open records laws by communicating with his staff through disappearing text messages. And Hawley and the House investigative committee are questioning whether Greitens’ campaign broke the law by securing the list of donors to a veterans charity for campaign fundraising purposes.
Missouri is crying out to be rescued from its own governor.
But if Trump, the high priest of scandal, has taught his disciple anything, it is the value of delusion. So Greitens stands firm against the great conspiracy. Everyone is out to get him. Nothing is his fault. But any day now, he is sure, the clouds will lift and people will again see him as the hero he knows himself to be.
Barbara Shelly is a freelance journalist in Kansas City.