A growing number of Republicans are questioning whether Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens should remain in office and are backing a legislative investigation that could lead to impeachment proceedings following the Republican governor's indictment on an invasion of privacy charge related to an extramarital affair.
Several lawmakers, including some Republicans, are calling on Greitens to resign. The second-highest ranking senator, Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, stopped short of urging resignation but questioned whether Greitens could still effectively lead the state.
"His actions have damaged the reputation of the office," Kehoe said in a statement late Thursday.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced Thursday that a grand jury had indicted the governor following an investigation launched in January, a day after Greitens admitted having an affair with his St. Louis hairdresser that began in March 2015. The indictment accuses him of taking a compromising photo of the woman without her consent during a sexual encounter at his home.
Greitens released a statement saying he made a mistake but "did not commit a crime." He accused Gardner, a Democrat who was also elected in November 2016, of playing politics.
"With today's disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken," Greitens said. "I know this will be righted soon. The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points."
Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Sam Cooper echoed those sentiments Friday, calling the indictment a "political hit job."
Among those calling for Greitens' resignation is Republican Sen. Gary Romine, who said impeachment proceedings should begin immediately if Greitens doesn't step down.
"We need to get this behind us for the betterment of the state," Romine said. "It is clear the governor cannot lead effectively while defending himself against this criminal charge."
Greitens was taken into custody Thursday in St. Louis and released on his own recognizance. He canceled plans to be in Washington this weekend for the National Governors Association annual meeting, and the Republican Governors Association said Greitens "no longer intends to serve" on its executive committee.
Greitens' attorney, Edward L. Dowd Jr. has filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that any relationship with the woman was consensual. If the indictment stands, the first court hearing is scheduled for March 16. The sentence for felony invasion of privacy is up to four years in prison.
Republican leaders in the Missouri House have announced plans to form a group of lawmakers to investigate the charges "and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward."
The joint statement Thursday from House Speaker Todd Richardson, Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr and Majority Leader Rob Vescovo didn't specifically mention impeachment, a process that must begin in the House with an investigation. But for some lawmakers, impeachment is on the table.
"Missourians thought they voted for a person of character and integrity, and instead they got a liar and alleged criminal," Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis said.
Republican Sen. Caleb Rowden and Rep. Kevin Corlew also called on Greitens to resign. Another Republican, Sen. Rob Schaaf — who has long feuded with Greitens — tweeted on Jan. 10, when Greitens first admitted to the affair: "Stick a fork in him." On Thursday, he posted, "... he's done."
Since the affair became public, Greitens, 43, has frequently vowed not to step down. On Thursday, he said the indictment "will not for a moment deter me from doing the important work of the great people of Missouri."
The indictment states that on March 21, 2015, Greitens photographed a woman identified only by her initials "in a state of full or partial nudity" without her knowledge or consent. The indictment said Greitens "transmitted the image contained in the photograph in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer."
Soon after the affair began, the woman's husband secretly recorded a conversation in which she described the alleged incident. She said on the tape that Greitens invited her downstairs at his home because he wanted to show her "how to do a proper pull-up."
She said Greitens "taped my hands to these rings and then put a blindfold on me," took a photo of her partially nude, and then warned her to remain silent.
"I saw a flash through the blindfold and he said, 'You're never going to mention my name,'" she said.
Greitens has repeatedly denied blackmailing the woman. He also has repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether he took a photo.
Greitens, a married father of two young boys, came into office as a political outsider, a brash Rhodes Scholar and former Navy SEAL officer who was wounded in Iraq. He emerged as the winner in a crowded and expensive GOP primary.
A former boxer and martial arts expert, he has embraced the role of maverick. He responded to a Democratic attack ad in the fall of 2016 with one of his own in which he fired more than 100 rounds from a machine gun as an announcer declared he'd bring out "the big guns" to fight Democratic policies championed by then-President Barack Obama.
Greitens surprised many experts by defeating Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the November 2016 election. Some saw him as a rising Republican star with potential presidential aspirations.
But governing hasn't always been easy, even though Republicans also control the state House and Senate. Greitens and GOP lawmakers have often clashed, with him comparing some to third-graders and labeling them "career politicians."
He has also faced questions about so-called "dark money" campaign contributions and criticism for stacking the state board of education. His use of a secretive app that deletes messages is under investigation by Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Greitens' charity, The Mission Continues, faced scrutiny during the campaign when Democrats accused him of insider politics for accessing the donor list to raise about $2 million through its top contributors.