JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Just hours before he left office Friday, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed scores of new laws, including a measure that makes it a crime to try to threaten a person using a private sexual image – the same allegation that led to his downfall.
In the flurry of last-minute activity, the scandal-plagued governor approved 77 new laws, granted several pardons and commutations and won at least a temporary reprieve in a court battle over campaign records. He posted a long Facebook message touting his accomplishments – without any mention of why he was quitting – and quietly left Capitol about an hour before his resignation took effect.
A short time later, fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Parson was sworn in as Greitens’ successor and immediately pledged “to bring honor, integrity (and) transparency to the governor’s office.”
“We have an opportunity beginning today to have a fresh start in state government,” Parson said.
The “revenge porn” law signed by Greitens creates a felony that will apply to cases when someone threatens the nonconsensual dissemination of a private sexual image by coercing another person to refrain from an action.
The governor has been accused of taking a nonconsensual photo of a partially nude woman with whom he had an affair in 2015 and warning her he would distribute it if she ever spoke of their encounter.
He has acknowledged having the affair but denied criminal wrongdoing and refused to directly answer questions about whether he took the photo.
Greitens cannot be charged under the new law because it was not in effect at the time. But a special prosecutor is still weighing whether to refile an invasion-of-privacy charge against Greitens under a different law.
In a news release announcing the bill signings, he touted other measures such as a corporate income tax cut and changes to the state foster care system. Later, he announced he had pardoned five people and commuted the sentences of four others, including several whom he said had been wrongfully convicted of murder.
Greitens has similarly insisted that he has done nothing worthy of being forced out of office.
“The ability to make wrong things right, for Missourians who have not gotten fair treatment from our criminal justice system, is one of the most solemn and precious abilities of a Governor,” Greitens said in a written statement announcing the clemency actions.
His resignation is part of a deal with a St. Louis prosecutor to drop a felony charge alleging misuse of a charity donor list to raise money for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign. His voluntary departure also avoids the potentially dubious distinction of becoming the first Missouri governor to be impeached by the House. Instead, Greitens became the first governor in Missouri’s 197-year history to resign amid scandal.
Though he’s leaving, Greitens isn’t entirely clear of legal problems.
The Missouri Ethics Commission continues to investigate a complaint that Greitens’ campaign filed false documents about the charity donor list. The FBI also has received information about Greitens from the chairman of a House investigatory panel and a private attorney representing the ex-husband of the woman with whom he had an affair.
On Friday, a judge granted a request from an attorney for Greitens’ campaign and a pro-Greitens nonprofit called A New Missouri to delay compliance with a Friday deadline to provide records subpoenaed by a House investigatory committee. A hearing on whether to rescind the order isn’t expected before next week.
Responding to a court order in a separate case, Greitens on Friday supplied a judge with a list of 20 governor’s office employees who downloaded or used a smartphone app called Confide, which automatically deletes text messages. The order also directed Greitens to provide phone numbers and other details, which would allow the plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging violations of the state records-retention law to request information from Confide.
The 44-year-old Greitens is a former Navy SEAL officer who won election in 2016 as a political outsider pledging to take on “career politicians” and crack down on perceived corruption in Jefferson City.
Parson, 62, who was elected separately from Greitens, is an Army veteran who built a career as a law officer and lawmaker. He spent 12 years as the rural Polk County sheriff before serving another dozen years in the Missouri House and Senate. He is also a cattle farmer and was moving his animals when he got the call Tuesday that Greitens was resigning.
On Friday, Parson participated with his wife, Teresa, and about 70 others in a prayer service at a capital city Baptist church, where his brother Pastor Kent Parson preached about moving beyond the past and focusing on today. Parson then took the oath in the quickly cleaned-out governor’s office with his wife by his side.
“Now is the time for Missouri to come together, to work together and to help one another,” Parson said in brief remarks.
Parson had kept a low profile as scandals grew around the governor following the January revelation that Greitens had engaged in an affair. The woman alleged in subsequent testimony that Greitens had restrained, slapped, shoved and belittled her.
As the governor denied any violence, Parson shied away from joining some other top Republicans who called on Greitens to resign. Instead, Parson emphasized the need for unity.
He will serve the remainder of Greitens’ term, which runs until January 2021.
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