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Missouri GOP again roiled by anonymous political attacks, Greitens responds

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Eric Greitens is responding to a YouTube video questioning his military service.
Screen capture | YouTube

Updated Monday, Feb. 15, 6:35 p.m. Includes John Brunner's reply to Eric Greitens' blasts — Almost a year after Republican gubernatorial hopeful Tom Schweich killed himself because of an alleged “whispering campaign,’’ the Missouri GOP is again roiled by similar controversies.

And Eric Greitens, a GOP candidate for governor, is accusing his rivals — most notably, businessman John Brunner — of possibly being behind an attack video, released last week on YouTube, that accuses Greitens of embellishing his military career as a Navy SEAL.

"This clearly fits the pattern of what John Brunner did with his superpac," Greitens said at a news conference Monday. Greitens cited a recorded telephone call with Brunner, which Brunner's allies made public to embarrass Greitens, and an online attack site against Greitens that is operated by a Brunner ally.

Brunner's campaign issued a statement late Monday in which it denied any involvement in the video. "For Mr. Greitens to slander our campaign and our candidate with spurious personal attacks is clearly a failure to assume responsibility for whatever his past relationships are with his fellow Navy SEALs,'' the campaign said. "As a fellow veteran, John Brunner respects all veterans for their military service."

Greitens is a best-selling author, having written about his service, and is a founder of “The Mission Continues,’’ a charity that seeks to help troubled veterans rebuild their lives. Greitens’ service also plays a central role in his campaign for governor. His campaign motto is “Earn It.”

In a statement late Thursday, Greitens’ campaign announced that it has posted on its website  military documents backing up his record.  By Friday, Greitens had posted his own video countering the allegations.

Greitens initially had said he believes that some disgruntled former SEALS might be behind the video, because as a lieutenant he had confronted a senior officer about using drugs and selling them to younger sailors.

“Some of my colleagues have never forgiven me for that. It adversely affected members of the SEAL community who were their friends,” Greitens said. “They blame me for that. And a few of them have continued to trash my service ever since.”

But by Monday, Greitens was contending that he now suspects political rivals might be behind video.

However, Greitens made a point of exempting Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is one of Greitens’ GOP rivals for governor. Kinder issued a statement Friday denouncing the anti-Greitens video.

"Mr. Greitens and I may currently be political opponents, but today I stand with him and decry nameless and untraceable attacks funded by shadowy money," Kinder said. "If this does not explicitly violate Missouri campaign finance law, it should. And as governor, I will close any loophole that these groups may be using to operate. We never know what our fellow candidates are dealing with, and we've tragically learned this past year that these attacks can lead to the worst possible outcome."

At Monday's news conference, Greitens praised Kinder for such a strong statement.

Greitens said he has chosen to hit hard against the attack video because he views the action as an attack against all military veterans. At his news conference, he was joined by several dozen veterans — many of whom gathered in formation to salute Greitens as he walked into his campaign office.

Greitens also observed that the attack video could end up helping his campaign.

Schweich suicide casts a shadow

Meanwhile, Missouri lieutenant governor candidate Bev Randles, a Kansas City lawyer, has sent out “cease-and-desist’’ letters to party activists accused of spreading the false rumor that she has been disbarred or faced disciplinary action.

The Missouri Supreme Court has even issued a statement saying Randles is a lawyer in good standing.

Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock said he had been aware of the rumors circulating about Randles, and that he had verified some months ago that they were untrue. He also praised Greitens for tackling the anonymous-attack issue head on.

Hancock is in an unusual position because a year ago he had been accused by Schweich’s allies – notably former Sen. John C. Danforth — of spreading the rumors that some blame for Schweich’s death.

Schweich, then the state auditor, had been planning to go public with accusations that Hancock was conducting a “whispering campaign’’ saying that some of Schweich’s relatives, including his father, were Jewish.

Hancock, a public consultant and former state legislator, had denied conducting any sort of whispering campaign against Schweich or anybody else. Hancock’s allies contended that stress and emotional issues had led to Schweich’s death.

In any case, some Republicans — including Danforth and some now running for office — had called for an end to anonymous attacks of any kind.

Hancock, who is aware of the irony in his own case, emphasized Friday he believes that anonymous attacks are improper — and rarely succeed.

“You hate to see anonymous charges brought to a campaign,’’ he said. “They can’t be verified. They inherently lack credibility because no one is willing to stand up and make the charges personally.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.