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Eric Greitens Announces Run For Senate, 3 Years After Resigning As Missouri Governor

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens walks out of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis after his felony invasion of privacy charge was dropped. May 14, 2018
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, shown walking out of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis after his felony invasion of privacy charge was dropped in May 2018, is making a run for the U.S. Senate. Greitens told Fox News host Bret Baier on Monday, "We've been exonerated and we're moving forward" when asked about the scandals that drove him from office.

Updated at 7:10 p.m. with additional announcement details

After years in the political wilderness caused by a resignation in a torrent of scandal, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens made his return to politics official on Monday when he declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

The move sets up a collision course between the former GOP statewide official and a slew of Republicans who don’t want him to succeed U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

Greitens made his candidacy announcement on FOX News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, citing his experience in the military and tenure as governor as points for his candidacy.

“People of Missouri need a fighter in the United States Senate,” Greitens said. “They need someone who’s going to go as I will, as I’m committed to do — to defending President Trump’s America First policies and also protecting the people of Missouri from Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s radical leftist agenda.

“We’re excited,” he added. “We’ve got a great grassroots team — and we’re in this race.”

Greitens burst on the political scene in 2016 when he won the Missouri governorship. He defeated three other candidates in the GOP primary and upended Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the general election.

But his governorship was decidedly rocky, as he fought with Republicans who controlled the GOP-controlled legislature over a host of issues. And it came apart after it was revealed he had an extramarital affair before he was governor, which opened a Pandora's box of personal and campaign finance-related issues over a roughly five-month period. He resigned while facing possible impeachment.

In February 2018, Greitens was charged with felony invasion of privacy after he was accused of taking a semi-nude photo of the woman he was having an affair with without her consent. That case fell apart after an investigator St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner hired allegedly made false statements during a deposition. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who then took over the case as a special prosecutor, declined to charge Greitens.

But even after the invasion of privacy case was dropped, Greitens still faced likely impeachment by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. He had made a myriad of enemies in the Missouri Republican Party, including then-Attorney General Josh Hawley — who turned over evidence to Gardner that resulted in Greitens being charged with felony computer data tampering related to use of a charity he helped found for political fundraising.

Many key Republican lawmakers called on Greitens to resign after the release of a stunning House investigative report that said the woman he had an affair with accused him of sexual and physical abuse. While he denied many of the allegations in the report, the House committee looking into the matter found the woman, who testified under oath, to be credible.

He ultimately stepped down in late May 2018, citing the toll on his family.

Bid ensures crowded primary

During his Fox News interview, Greitens was asked whether the litany of scandals would hurt his ability to win next year. He pointed to how the Missouri Ethics Commission didn’t find he was personally responsible for campaign finance-related violations. That investigation did not look into the physical or sexual abuse allegations.

He also said that the investigator Gardner hired, William Tisaby, was charged with a host of felonies associated with his invasion of privacy case.

“We resigned, because at the time it was what I needed to do for the people that I love the most,” Greitens said when asked why he stepped down when other governors under scrutiny stuck it out. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because I knew that all of these accusations were false. The good news is that the big wave of lies has now crashed on the rock of the facts. And one of the things I know as a boxer is that you can lose a round. But you can still stay in the fight and win the fight.”

Since leaving office, Greitens has started a talk show and appeared on programming with former Trump aides — including Steve Bannon. Some other luminaries who were close with the former president have touted Greitens as a potential Senate candidate,including former aide Andrew Giuliani — the son of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Still, Greitens’ entry into the U.S. Senate race has alarmed some Missouri Republicans who feel his scandals will make him easier to beat in a general election.

While Greitens has passionate fans among Missouri Republican voters, he’s also made enemies who will likely try to prevent him from becoming a U.S. senator. They could include Hawley, who has been communicating with Trump about the Senate race and could dissuade the former president from endorsing him.

GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Josh Hawley greets President Donald Trump at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
President Donald Trump traveled to Missouri in March 2018 to appear at fundraiser event for then-Senate candidate Josh Hawley (center-left).

Trump has also spoken with Blunt, whom Greitens criticized earlier this year for not voting to overturn President Joe Biden’s Electoral College wins in Pennsylvania and Arizona. Blunt said that Trump still would have endorsed him had he run for reelection. When asked if he was trying to dissuade Trump from backing Greitens, Blunt replied: “I’m not going to be publicly building up or denigrating candidates. Let them sort that out themselves.

“In our state, [Trump’s endorsement] would make a difference in the primary,” Blunt said. “Having his help would have made the primary easy. And I think it’s going to be an easy general election for almost any Republican candidate.”

Other potential primary candidates include Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Reps. Jason Smith, Ann Wagner, Billy Long and Vicky Hartzer. Smith and Long are personally close with Trump, which could foreclose the possibility of Greitens getting the president’s endorsement.

Among the Democrats who have announced are former state Sen. Scott Sifton, Jefferson City native Lucas Kunce and tech executive Tim Shepard. Democrats who are thinking about getting in include Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and state Sen. Brian Williams of St. Louis County.

Candidates, including Sifton and Kunce, were quick to make fundraising pitches following the Greitens announcement. While Missouri is a solidly red state, there is concern among Republicans that a Greitens win in the primary could put the seat in play.

Lucas, a Democrat, said in a statement Monday that Greitens has “no business in the U.S. Senate.”

“He always has been a man in politics for himself and self-promotion, and his nationally televised campaign announcement today reaffirms that fact, however unsurprising,” Lucas said. “…We can’t allow Eric Greitens to make a further mockery of the hardworking people of Missouri.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

KCUR reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman contributed to this article

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.