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Greitens and the affair: Untangling the legal issues in the wake of governor's admission

Eric and Sheena Greitens prepare to vote in the Central West End on Nov. 8, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio
Eric and Sheena Greitens prepare to vote in the Central West End on Nov. 8, 2016. Once he declared his candidacy for governor, Eric Greitens' campaign messages prominently featured his wife and children.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ admission late Wednesday that he had an extramarital affair before he was governor bumped his second State of the State address out of the headlines. 

Just after the speech Wednesday evening, Greitens and his wife, Sheena Greitens, issued a statement saying “there was a time when he was unfaithful” in their marriage. The admission came as KMOV-TV prepared to air a report about the affair,featuring the man who said he was the ex-husband of the woman in question. 

The encounter at the heart of the television report allegedly took place in March 2015. At that time, Greitens had formed a committee to explore running for Missouri governor, but he had not officially declared his candidacy.

In a recording provided to KMOV, the ex-husband uses the term “blackmail,” alleging Greitens threatened the woman involved that he would expose an explicit photo of her if she ever revealed details of their relationship.  Through his attorney, Greitens has denied the accusation of blackmail.

The woman allegedly involved has not confirmed any of the allegations or confirmed the authenticity of the recording. According to KMOV, she did not know her then-husband was recording the conversation.  

Missouri is a "one-party consent" state, meaning only one person on the call has to know it is being recorded. But, there are criminal and civil issues to consider.

Blackmail is broadly defined as a threat to reveal an embarrassing, true fact about a person unless he or she does what you want.

St. Louis attorney Albert Watkins, who is representing the ex-husband, backed away from the term "blackmail" in an interview on Thursday.

“A lot of interest has been focused on whether this was blackmail, whether this was extortion,” Watkins said. “In fact, I don’t want to use those words because that’s not my job. It’s not my duty to reach a legal conclusion."

Watkins said law enforcement officials appear to be reviewing whether there may be grounds for criminal charges.

“I can tell you that there has been an elevated and protracted degree of interest on the part of federal law enforcement authorities in what’s going on,” he said.

In terms of any possible civil action against the governor, Watkins said his client may not have standing. It would be up to his former spouse to decide whether to sue Greitens. 

“There are all sorts of alternative theories of liability that could give rise to a civil cause of action,” he said. “Most of them rest with my client’s former spouse because she was the victim.”

Holly Edgell is the managing editor of the Midwest Newsroom, a public radio collaboration among NPR member stations in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.
Ashley Lisenby is the news director of St. Louis Public Radio.