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Already accused of sex assault, Missouri governor indicted over fundraising felony

Eric Greitens was supposed to be a leading light for the GOP's next generation.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) with Vice President Mike Pence in 2017. CREDIT: Michael Thomas/ Getty Images
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) with Vice President Mike Pence in 2017. CREDIT: Michael Thomas/ Getty Images

It’s not every day that a felony charge against a sitting governor counts as small-potatoes political news. But compared to the alleged sexual assault and blackmail attempt that led prosecutors to charge Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) with a felony earlier this year, a second charge filed Friday over campaign finance maneuvers seems piddling.

Greitens built his campaign donor list in part by transferring a membership list from a veterans’ charity he started, his attorney acknowledged Friday. The transfer violated Missouri law, according to prosecutor Kim Gardner. The governor’s lawyer called the case “absurd,” saying Greitens had built the Mission Continues charity list from his personal network and did nothing wrong in ordering staffers there to hand it over to his campaign team.

The new, milquetoast felony charge may smooth the road for Missouri lawmakers to finally chuck Greitens out of office, as it offers a safe-for-work narrative rationale for why the governor must go.

But the real pressure on him continues to come from the allegation that he lured a hairdresser into his home, tied her up, struck her, and sexually assaulted her. Greitens took a photo of the woman during the encounter and, she says, threatened to send it to others if she told anyone what had happened. He has been charged with felony invasion of privacy over the photo, but not with any crimes of violence.

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An investigation by state lawmakers found the woman’s accusations credible, and some in the legislature hope to impeach him in a special session later this year. Greitens maintains he had a consensual affair, while the investigation’s final report quotes the woman saying she felt coerced into performing oral sex on the governor.

But if the salacious and ugly sexual assault allegations haven’t pushed Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) off the public stage, the new charges filed against him Friday almost certainly won’t either.

“Now he’s being accused of stealing an email list from an organization he built?” attorney Ed Dowd said to CNN on Friday. “Give me a break.”

Greitens has sought to portray himself as a rising star in his party since well before his successful 2016 gubernatorial campaign. On paper, he fit the profile: A Rhodes scholar and Navy SEAL who ran a veterans’ charity, Greitens framed himself as a one-time liberal who’d wised up to the deficiencies of the Democratic Party.

He followed through on that zeal-of-the-convert ideological narrative once in office, signing a law pre-empting local minimum wage hikes and another seeking to gut labor unions in his state.

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A couple years ago, even a carefully groomed square-jawed conservative pol like Greitens could have expected to get summarily dumped by his party over allegations of sexual assault. But the Missouri GOP has rallied to Greitens’ aid, telling the public the sex abuse case is somehow a George Soros plot and allegedly pressuring elected officials in the state to back the governor or lose access to donors.

Between that local embrace and the state of the national Republican Party — led by one man who’s on record bragging about abusing women and another who took a wishy-washy approach to the prospect of an accused pedophile being elected to the U.S. Senate — Greitens may have reason to think his career is still on track.