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What's Next For Missouri's Gov. Eric Greitens

May 15, 2018
Originally published on May 16, 2018 11:24 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now to Missouri where Governor Eric Greitens is breathing a sigh of relief, at least for now. Prosecutors have dropped a felony invasion of privacy charge. They allege that Greitens took a partially nude photo of a woman without her consent. But Governor Greitens is not entirely in the clear. He still faces calls to resign by state lawmakers and a campaign finance-related charge. Here to walk us through all the twists and turns of this story is Rachel Lippmann, reporter with St. Louis Public Radio. Hi, Rachel.

RACHEL LIPPMANN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. Good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: So jury selection was already underway. Why were the charges suddenly dropped?

LIPPMANN: The stated reason from prosecutors for dropping the case was the fact that a St. Louis judge had given Greitens' attorneys the right to call Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, the lead prosecutor in this case, as a witness. That made it complicated for her to continue to prosecute the case. But it was pretty clear that prosecutors didn't have the photo that's kind of at the center of this case. An examination of the governor's phone, about 16,000 images and about a few hundred more videos, didn't turn up anything that was connected to the case, any photos of this woman.

And prosecutors had decided not to review evidence from the Apple iCloud, which signals to a lot of people they didn't think they were going to be able to find the photo either. Now, they could have gone forward without the photo. They had the testimony of the woman in question. And while the core of her story hadn't changed, these allegations that this photo was taken, there had been some other shifting elements of her story that could have called into question her credibility.

SHAPIRO: Now, we said he's not totally out of the woods. So what is the risk that he still faces?

LIPPMANN: There is a possibility that the privacy charge could be refiled. Either another attorney in Circuit Attorney Gardner's office could handle it or she could find a special prosecutor to handle the case. There is a second felony charge out there. This one is for computer tampering. Greitens is accused of using a list he put together of donors of his charity - using that for campaign purposes. And there are also a lot of political pressures on the governor right now.

SHAPIRO: How much pressure is he under right now to step down?

LIPPMANN: The governor has been under a lot of political pressure, even from when the story first broke back in January. And it's just kept building and building and building. The breaking point for a lot of Republicans, his own party, came when a special House committee that's been formed to investigate these allegations released a fairly explosive report in which they found the testimony of this woman credible and in which she alleged some physical and sexual abuse as part of their relationship. He is potentially facing impeachment.

The State House is going to go into special session on Friday and consider impeachment or other layers of discipline for his conduct. And what Republicans and Democrats have told us all along is that the conclusion of this particular criminal case will have no bearing on whether or not they go forward with impeachment, either to hear articles of impeachment or even to oust him from office.

SHAPIRO: What are the broader political implications of this in an election year beyond the governor's mansion? Is this coming up in campaigns?

LIPPMANN: It's not directly coming up in campaigns yet. I think where you see the biggest impact is going to be in the Senate contest, the effort to oust Senator Claire McCaskill. The leading Republican candidate to run against her is the Attorney General Josh Hawley. He was originally accused of being too close to Greitens, sort of whitewashing over an investigation into a text message deleting app that the governor had used. But as these scandals began to grow, you started seeing Hawley taking a much harder line on the governor.

He has called on the governor to resign. And he has also turned over evidence in that computer tampering charge to the St. Louis prosecutor. That's how she was able to file those charges. There are also reports that he has turned over evidence of another campaign finance-related charge to prosecutors in Jefferson City for them to consider.

SHAPIRO: That's Rachel Lippmann, reporter with St. Louis Public Radio. Thanks, Rachel.

LIPPMANN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.