By Frank Bowman
Today a special committee of the Missouri House of Representatives issued a report about Governor Eric Greitens’ interactions with his former hair stylist. You can read it here.
There are at least four notable things about the report:
First, contrary to rumors flying around the state before the report’s release, it focuses purely on Mr. Greitens’ behavior with his former stylist, and does not delve into other questions about the governor’s fund raising before or after his election. It’s been suggested that the House committee may issue a subsequent report on those issues.
Second, the current report recounts the claims of the stylist about her encounters with Greitens in lurid and excruciating detail, and adds corroborating testimony of three other persons who know her. Moreover, the committee was obviously at pains to contrast the cooperation it received from the stylist and those who back her story with the resolute non-cooperation by the governor, who both refused to testify and refused to provide certain requested documents.
Third, with the important caveat that, due to Mr. Greitens’ silence (perhaps understandable in view of his upcoming criminal trial), we don’t have his side, the narrative laid out by the committee presents a pretty darn convincing account of a young woman lured by the charisma of a handsome and powerful man into what she thought of as a romance, but turned quickly into a tawdry, exploitative, and at times violent, series of sexual liaisons. And regardless of whether the woman’s story is true or not, it’s plain that the committee believes her.
Fourth, if, and I emphasize if, the woman is to be believed, the details of her story transform the legal posture of any impeachment effort. Hitherto, the publicly accepted narrative of the worst case against the governor was that Greitens and his stylist entered into a consensual sexual affair, as one incident of which he tied her, consensually, to a piece of exercise equipment and then, non-consensually, took a photograph of her in a state of complete or partial undress, a photograph which he allegedly threatened to release if she revealed the affair. In this version of the matter, the only crime Greitens might have committed was some version of invasion of privacy, RSMo 565.252, based on his having taken a picture of a person in “a state of full or partial nudity” without that person’s consent.
But, if the woman’s story is true, one would be justified in concluding that Greitens committed several serious sexual offenses. To begin, she says that, when Greitens taped her to a set of rings in his basement, she was fully clothed (albeit in clothes he had given her to change into) and that she had not consented to any sexual contact. She goes on to say that, while she was taped to the rings, Greitens ripped the front of her shirt, exposing her, and then began kissing her “chest” and stomach, and then pulled her pants down to her ankles. (Committee Report, paras. 25, 27) She denies consenting either to the ripping of the shirt or the lowering of the pants. (Comm. Rep., paras. 26, 28).
It was at this point, and during a period in which she was supposedly blindfolded, that the alleged picture was taken and the threat of exposure made. (Comm. Rep., para. 29-35)
According to the woman, she was “freaking out” after the photo and trying to tear away from her bonds. (Comm. Rep,. para. 37) She specifically claims to have said, “I don’t want to do this,” at which point Greitens helped release her. (Comm. Rep., para 39) She then tried to leave, but Greitens grabbed her and placed her on the floor, where she began crying. While she was there, she claims that Greitens fondled her and exposed his penis next to her face. (Comm. Rep. para 41) The report states that she performed oral sex on him because “she felt that she had no other choice if she were going to get out of the basement.” (Comm. Rep., para. 42)
The report explained her state of mind as follows:
As to whether she consented to oral sex at that point, Witness 1 testified, “It’s a hard question because I did it – it felt like consent, but, no, I didn’t want to do it.” She further explained, “Coerced, maybe. I felt as though that would allow me to leave.”
If, and again I emphasize if, all of this is true, Mr. Greitens would arguably have committed the Class C felony of sexual abuse in the first degree, RSMO 566.100.1, because he subjected the woman to “sexual contact” either while she was “incapacitated” by being tied up or, as the statute says, by “forcible compulsion.”
Likewise, inducing a woman to perform oral sex knowing she does not consent is the Class C felony of Second Degree Sodomy, RSMO 566.061.1. The consent issue is contestable, as is Greitens’ knowledge of the woman’s professed lack of consent. But if one accepts the account of physical restraint of a weeping woman trying to leave the basement, the picture does not favor the governor.
Of course, Mr. Greitens and his defenders will doubtless emphasize quite another portion of the woman’s testimony, namely that after the basement episode she entered into a consensual sexual relationship with him that involved a number of intimate encounters. (Comm. Rep, para 53-65) His alleged behavior in this period included slapping her on one occasion, but otherwise consisted of perhaps distasteful, but noncriminal, conduct. And he would argue that her acquiescence in a consensual relationship casts doubt on her account of the initial basement encounter.
All this tawdry business potentially transforms the legal framework of an impeachment case. As noted in an earlier post, the Missouri Supreme Court in the Moriarty case essentially held that impeachable offenses under the Missouri constitution must involve some violation of the law. While there are reasons to doubt the soundness of their conclusion, the House of Representatives is likely to be guided by it. Accordingly, the newly released details of the stylist’s initial encounter with Mr. Greitens would, if she is believed, offer the House new grounds for impeachment that do not require proof of the elusive photograph taken by a cell phone the woman admits she didn’t actually see from behind her blindfold.
The House might, though of course it need not, conclude that it believes the woman when she says Greitens committed what amounted to the offenses of first degree sexual abuse and second degree sodomy. Such a conclusion could satisfy both the Moriarty holding and the requirement of Article VII, Section 1 of the Missouri constitution that an impeachable conduct consist of “crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office.”
The Show-Me State is in for some interesting times.