Missouri’s U.S. Senate contest could be tied to the fate of the state’s Republican governor, Eric Greitens, who is facing calls to resign after a shocking report detailing an alleged nonconsensual sexual encounter with his former hairdresser.
The highly competitive race, in which both parties are heavily invested in winning, could determine which side controls the upper chamber in Congress next year.
“If the governor remains the governor up until Election Day, I think he’ll have a genuine impact on the election,” said John Hancock, a former chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.
And that impact could hurt Republican candidate Josh Hawley, who has called for Greitens to step down, at the polls.
A report by a bipartisan Missouri House Committee released Wednesday includes graphic testimony from Greitens’ former mistress, who alleges he bound her hands with tape, put a blindfold on her, took a partially nude photo of her and then threated to release the photo if she mentioned his name.
He insists the relationship was purely consensual.
“This was an entirely consensual relationship, and any allegation of violence or sexual assault is false,” he said in a statement.
Hancock said if Greitens is still in office in November then “at some point the biggest implication is what it could portend for turnout. If he’s still the governor he will have some supporters and Josh Hawley would have called for his resignation and impeachment and potentially you’d have a fissure in the Republican electorate that could be problematic.”
Democrat incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill also called for Greitens to resign.
“I think it’s terribly unfortunate for our state and I do think my opponent has been asleep at the wheel in terms of all the corruption around Jefferson City that he’s failed to take a look at including the activities of the governor so that’s unfortunate,” McCaskill told ABC News.
Hawley said the report from the Missouri state legislature contains “shocking, substantial, and corroborated evidence of wrongdoing by Governor Greitens,” behavior that is “certainly impeachable.” Hawley also called for Greitens to “resign immediately” to spare the people of Missouri.
Charlie Riedel/APMissouri Senator Claire McCaskill talks with Missouri Attorney General and likely Republican challenger Josh Hawley during the Governor’s Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Mo., Aug. 17, 2017.
McCaskill is seen as one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats this year and is running in a state President Donald Trump won by 19 points in 2016.
Another problem facing the governor and his party is that there are multiple ongoing investigations — including one from Hawley, the state attorney general, and the House investigative committee, in addition to an upcoming criminal trial in May, meaning there will be a constant stream of news surrounding Greitens over the next few months.
Jack Cardetti, a former Missouri Democratic Party spokesman, said talk of Greitens is “sucking up the political oxygen at the moment.”
He added that “the longer this drags on, the longer Eric Greitens remains governor, the worse for everybody in the Republican Party.”
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens accused of unwanted sexual advances
But several lawmakers have called for Greitens’ resignation and the GOP leadership in the Missouri statehouse have said impeachment would be an option, although it would likely happen in a special session called after the legislature adjourns on May 18.
Thus far Greitens has resisted calls to step down even as members of his own party call for it.
Republican Rep. Ann Wagner said he is unfit to be governor.
Other prominent Republicans in the state expressed their concern for the details revealed in the report but stopped short of calling for his resignation.
“The allegations in the report are very concerning. As I said previously, both the legislative and legal processes that are underway are appropriate and should continue moving forward,” said Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in a statement.
And GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler said in a Facebook post: “The report issued today concerning Governor Greitens and his behavior surpasses disturbing. It is disgusting. This is not behavior befit for a leader in Missouri or anywhere else for that matter.”
Greitens declined to testify before the House’s investigative committee and called the investigations agasint him a “political witch hunt.”
“This is exactly like what’s happening with the witch hunts in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
As state attorney general, Hawley has conducted two investigations into the governor – one for his administration’s use of the text-destroying app Confide and another into the Greitens’ former charity.
Hawley’s investigation into the use of the messaging app found that Greitens’ staff did not violate records laws. There were concerns the use of the app, which deletes messages and prevents recipients from saving them, went around open record laws.
His investigation into the governor’s former veterans charity, The Mission Continues, is ongoing. Among the allegations in the case are whether or not Greitens or the charity violated federal law that forbids charities from taking part in political campaigns.
The Missouri House investigative committee is expected to release a second report in the near future focused on the charity.
Then there is the investigation by the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office, where Greitens faces felony charges for invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a partially or fully nude photo and “subsequently transmitted the image contained in the photograph in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer.” That trial is scheduled for May 14.
“In 32 days, a court of law and a jury of my peers will let every person in Missouri know the truth and prove my innocence,” Greitens said in a statement Thursday night.
“I think probably if not every day then every other day there will be more news about one of these things going on,” said Peter Joy, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at Washington University in St. Louis.
Joy noted that even if Greitens is convicted as part of the criminal investigation he could continue in the gubernatorial mansion.
“He could still be governor because he could appeal it. I am certain there will be an appeal if he is convicted,” he said.
“And the irony of all of this is that the governor ran on a campaign that he was going to clear up all the corruption. I just think he’s backed himself into a bad corner on all of this.”