JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office has decided to dismiss and re-file a felony invasion of privacy charge against Gov. Eric Greitens, citing the Republican governor's "scorched-earth legal and media strategy."
The sudden announcement from Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, came the same week Greitens' trial was expected to begin. In a statement, Gardner's office heaped scorn upon Greitens and his attorneys' strategies since a St. Louis grand jury indicted Greitens on Feb. 22.
"Since January, Governor Greitens and his defense team have taken a scorched-earth legal and media strategy and relentlessly attacked the intentions, character and integrity of every person involved in investigating the Governor's behavior including Missouri House Committee members, the Attorney General, the Circuit Attorney and her team, his victim, her family and those who have called for his resignation," said the statement from Gardner's office.
At issue for Gardner was a motion Greitens' team filed to include Gardner herself as a witness for the defense.
"A defendant who wishes to call a prosecutor as a witness must demonstrate a compelling and legitimate reason to do so," Gardner's office said. "Governor Greitens has produced no compelling reason to include the Circuit Attorney as a witness for any purpose. The defense team knows that the tactic of endorsing the Circuit Attorney as a witness is part of their ongoing effort to distract people from the defendant's actions that brought about both the felony Invasion of Privacy and Computer Tampering charges against him."
Gardner's office said it was unprecedented for the judge in the case, Rex Burlison, to allow Greitens' team to successfully submit Gardner's name as a defense witness, which her office said "places the Circuit Attorney in the impossible position" of being subject to questioning from her own staff during cross-examination.
Gardner's office also said the court could have called the attorney of the woman in question as a witness.
"When the court and the defense team put the state in the impossible position of choosing between her professional obligations and the pursuit of justice, the Circuit Attorney will always choose the pursuit of justice," Gardner's office said. "The court's order leaves the Circuit Attorney no adequate means of proceeding with this trial. Therefore, the court has left the Circuit Attorney with no other legal option than to dismiss and refile this matter."
As the News-Leader reported Sunday, Gardner's prosecution has been far from smooth. Gardner's efforts have come under scrutiny and have led to sanctions related to allegations that a private investigation she hired allegedly committed perjury under her watch.
The grand jury indictment accused Greitens of taking a nonconsensual photo of the woman while she was partially naked and of transmitting the image to a computer. It was filed just shy of three years after March 21, 2015, when the woman has said to lawmakers and to her ex-husband that she first had a sexual encounter with Greitens.
Dismissing and re-filing the case does not mean that Greitens has escaped legal jeopardy.
A spokeswoman for Gardner said "we have about a month" when asked about the statute of limitations. This appears to be the balance of time between the Feb. 22 indictment date and the three-year anniversary of the alleged events.
Greitens faces separate felony charge for computer tampering, which was was brought by Gardner after Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley referred evidence to her office.
The invasion of privacy charge stemmed from an affair Greitens had in 2015 with a woman who cut his hair, and the computer tampering charge pertained to allegations of wrongdoing regarding how Greitens' campaign obtained a list of charity donors for political fundraising purposes.
Gardner's office said it will "research the best step forward" and will "make a decision to either pursue a special prosecutor or make an appointment of one of her assistants to proceed."
The spokeswoman for Gardner, Susan Ryan, said the charge could potentially be re-filed in a misdemeanor version, which would not require proving transmission of the image such that it was available via computer, as well as re-filed as a felony.
The period for charging misdemeanors is only a year, compared to the three years allowed to press felony charges, according to state law.
Ryan said that a request for a special prosecutor could be filed in conjunction with future charges. The circuit attorney's office has a special prosecutor in mind, she said, declining to say who for strategic reasons.
Ryan emphasized that the dismissal was due to the defense maneuver of trying to call Gardner as a witness and said the charges were not dropped due to lack of evidence.
Though he admitted marital infidelity at the initial report in January, Greitens has remained defiant amid calls for his resignation and impeachment, and he has characterized the efforts of Gardner and others as a "political witch hunt."
The governor made a statement to reporters in St. Louis and his Twitter account later posted several messages.
"Today, the prosecutor dropped the false charges against me," Greitens said. "This was a great victory and a long time coming. I've said from the beginning that I am innocent."
"This experience has also been humbling, and I've emerged from it a changed man. I believe that in all of our lives, we have to deal with pain, and that if we deal with it in the right way, we can learn wisdom. We all have to deal with suffering, but if we deal with it in the right way, we can emerge with strength. I also believe, as many people of faith do, that even in the hardest situations, we can find blessings.
"Above all, I am sorry for the pain that this process and my actions have caused my family, my friends, and the people of Missouri. I am extraordinarily grateful for the tremendous patience and courage of friends, family, and people of faith, who have all recognized that in time comes the truth. We have a great mission before us. And at this time, I'd ask people of goodwill to come together so that we may continue to do good together."
Meanwhile, in Jefferson City, the legislative committee investigating Greitens canceled its meeting Monday. The committee chairman, Rep. Jay Barnes, announced to the public and the press that Greitens' campaign attorney had not fully complied with legislative subpoenas.
Lawmakers voted earlier this month to convene a special session starting Friday. They may hold hearings and consider impeachment proceedings for Greitens.
An attorney for Greitens told the committee in March that Greitens would testify and provide documents to lawmakers but cited the invasion-of-privacy trial as a reason why he couldn't do in early April per their request.
Having Greitens speak before lawmakers in early April "would violate his right to a fair trial," attorney Ed Dowd wrote. "He would be under no such restriction once the trial concludes."
The two top Republicans in the Missouri Senate said in a joint statement that the dismissal of the charges "does not change the facts" uncovered by the legislative investigation.
"The House's investigation and the Circuit Attorney's case are two separate paths," said Sens. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. "The members of the House committee have discovered a disturbing pattern of allegations, most of which are completely separate from the case dismissed today. They need time to finish their investigation. We now hope the governor and his staff are more forthcoming with the facts, and they decide to appear before the special investigative committee. The governor has lost the moral authority and the ability to lead the state going forward, and we reaffirm our call that he resign immediately."
There was no immediate statement from Barnes, R-Jefferson City.
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