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Missouri governor stirred disputes before affair, indictment

April 12, 2018

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens speaks at a news conference about allegations related to his extramarital affair with his hairdresser, in Jefferson City, Mo., Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Greitens initiated a physically aggressive unwanted sexual encounter with his hairdresser and threatened to distribute a partially nude photo of her if she spoke about it, according to testimony from the woman released Wednesday by a House investigatory committee. (J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens courted controversy and touched off political disputes even before acknowledging an extramarital affair that led to his indictment in February on a felony invasion of privacy charge and a blistering report from a state House investigatory committee this week.

Greitens had been a rising star in the national Republican Party and a welcome partner for state GOP lawmakers, whose favored policies had faced a Democratic governor’s veto until Greitens’ election in 2016. He also seemed to have his sights set on even higher office, having secured the web address EricGreitensforPresident.com years before running for governor.

But he also made missteps as a first-time candidate and then as a freshman governor, raising questions in particular about secrecy.

On Wednesday a special legislative committee released a graphic report in which a woman testified that Greitens spanked, slapped, grabbed, shoved and threatened her during a series of sexual encounters that at times left her crying and afraid. Greitens has called it an “entirely consensual relationship.”

He faces a criminal charge over allegations that he took a nonconsensual photo of the woman when she was partly naked. He has denied any criminal wrongdoing . A trial is set for May 14.

Here is a look at some other notable hiccups during Greitens’ first campaign and first year in office:

RESUME QUESTIONS

While running for governor, Greitens repeatedly touted his volunteer work with refugees in the Balkans in 1994, saying he helped children in Bosnia, where thousands died amid ethnic strife following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. He later acknowledged that most of the work was in safer, neighboring Croatia. Asked about the word choice, Greitens told The Associated Press that people recognized what happened in Bosnia and understood working with Bosnian refugees. But the choice also may have had a political advantage: Missouri has a large population of Bosnian refugees.

CHARITY IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Greitens’ campaign for governor had access to the donor list for The Mission Continues, a veterans’ charity he founded, and raised $2 million from individuals and entities that had given the charity significant contributions. Democrats said it was the kind of insider politics that Greitens decried in his campaign, and the chairman of the state party filed an ethics complaint contending he should have disclosed the list as an in-kind contribution.

Greitens initially denied using the charity’s list for fundraising, then belatedly reported it as an in-kind contribution. He paid a $100 fine.

Federal law prohibits charities such as The Mission Continues from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of candidates. The IRS has said charities cannot give their donor lists away but can rent them at fair market value if they’re available to all candidates.

In March, the AP reported that Greitens had used an email address for The Mission Continues to arrange political meetings as he prepared to launch his campaign. Experts on rules governing nonprofits told the AP that a scenario such as Greitens’ use of the charity’s email account could cross the line of what’s allowed, though they said that line is not clearly defined.

Attorney General Josh Hawley is investigating The Mission Continues as it relates to the state’s consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting laws.

PAY SCRUTINIZED

During his campaign, Greitens emphasized how he started The Mission Continues with combat pay from a tour in Iraq, and he initially worked for the charity without pay. But as donations rose, he started taking a salary, and it hit $175,000 in 2011 — above the median for nearly 240 medium-sized charities in the Midwest, though not extravagant, according to analysts.

Greitens’ Democratic opponent suggested in an ad that the Republican was diverting money that was supposed to be used to help veterans.

INAUGURAL DONORS

Greitens made fighting corruption and making ethics reforms a key part of his successful campaign for governor. Once elected, he broke with tradition by refusing to disclose the amount of the donations to his inaugural festivities. Democratic legislators said the move could allow him to hide any conflicts of interest.

DARK MONEY HELP

Within weeks of Greitens taking office, his campaign treasurer founded a nonprofit group to promote the new governor’s agenda. The group can take an unlimited amount of money from donors and it does not have to reveal who is contributing.

Separately, Greitens received a contribution of nearly $2 million for his campaign from a super PAC with only a single, mystery group as a donor.

SECRECY INVESTIGATED

The state attorney general’s office reviewed Greitens’ and some of his staff’s use of a secretive app that deletes messages after they’re read. The Confide app also prevents recipients from saving, forwarding, printing or taking screenshots of messages. Government-transparency advocates worry that use of the app could undermine open-record laws. Hawley’s office found no evidence of wrongdoing after Greitens’ staff indicated he might invoke executive privilege to avoid being interviewed and others said they didn’t use the app for substantive government business. A lawsuit filed by an open government activist is pending.

EDUCATION FIGHT

Greitens worked for months to appoint five new members to the eight-member State Board of Education and engineer its firing in December of the state’s education commissioner. The effort drew strong criticism from some educators and lawmakers, who praised former Commissioner Margie Vandeven’s work. Greitens was never clear about what Vandeven had done wrong; critics said the move interfered with the independence of the school board. In part because of a dispute with lawmakers over the tactics Greitens used to oust Vandeven, the state board lacks a quorum and has not been able to hire someone to replace her.

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