By JIM SALTER , Associated Press
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Attorneys for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens are renewing a request to have a judge, not a jury, decide the felony invasion of privacy case against the embattled Republican governor.
A court filing late Thursday marked the second time Greitens’ attorneys have asked St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison to approve a bench trial. Burlison turned down the first request in March.
The charge stems from an extramarital affair in 2015, before Greitens was elected. He is accused of taking an unauthorized photo of the woman while she was partially nude, blindfolded and bound in the basement of his St. Louis home. He has admitted to the affair but denied criminal wrongdoing.
“Gov. Greitens was hopeful that a fair and impartial jury could be impaneled,” the motion states. “However, the constant negative publicity about Gov. Greitens has destroyed any chance of obtaining a fair jury.”
Jury selection begins Thursday and the trial is scheduled to start May 14.
Greitens also faces a second felony charge of computer data tampering for allegedly using a donor list from the veterans charity he founded, The Mission Continues, to raise money for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign. A trial date in that case has not been set.
Greitens’ attorneys, in the court filing, cite other concerns that have potentially tainted the jury pool. A Missouri House panel is also investigating the governor, and the motion criticizes the committee for releasing two reports so close to the trial. It also accused Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley of “reckless, outrageous conduct” for an April 17 news conference in which he said there were grounds to impeach the governor over misuse of the charity donor list.
Lawmakers will convene May 18 in a special session to consider impeachment. If the House votes to impeach Greitens, which requires 82 votes, the Senate then would appoint a panel of seven judges to conduct a trial on whether to remove him from office. No governor has ever been forced from office in Missouri.
Although lawmakers gathered more than the constitutionally required signatures of three-fourths of the members of each chamber to summon themselves into a special session, some wavered before finally agreeing to the plan.
Several lawmakers signed the petition, then crossed out their names. Some signed and re-signed as many as three times.
Republican Rep. Lyndall Fraker says he went back-and-forth as new information filtered in. He says he ultimately signed the petition to allow lawmakers more time to gather information.
Republican Rep. Bryan Spencer, of Wentzville, said Friday he initially signed the petition a couple of weeks ago “to find out what the truth is” about the allegations against the governor. Spencer said he later scratched his name off after hearing from a couple hundred constituents, many of whom said they don’t want Greitens impeached and believe the special session is a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“I take my job very seriously. I don’t always vote my conscience because I try to vote the way the people back home want me to vote,” Spencer said.
Greitens has brushed aside widespread calls for resignation from legislative leaders in both parties, blaming a “political witch hunt” for the allegations against him.
The House investigatory committee released a report this week indicating that Greitens had misused The Mission Continues donor list. The report included testimony from a former Greitens’ aide indicating the campaign also falsely identified the source of the donor list in a settlement with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
It was the second stunning report from the House panel. Last month, it released a report with testimony from the woman involved in the affair. She alleged that Greitens had restrained, slapped, shoved, threatened and belittled her during a series of sexual encounters in 2015, at times leaving her crying and afraid. Authorities have not released the woman’s name.
Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report from Jefferson City.