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Missouri lawmakers to convene special session on potential Greitens impeachment

Missouri lawmakers to convene special session on potential Greitens impeachment

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Gov. Greitens calls this a witch hunt

Republicans spoke at a press conference on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, after Gov. Eric Greitens gave his own press conference to debunk a report from a special committee investigating his affair. House Speaker Todd Richardson (center) said he wants the committee to continue their work to determine if the governor should be disciplined. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • Legislative leaders announced Thursday night that they will convene a special session on May 18 that could lead to the impeachment of Gov. Eric Greitens.

The announcement was made at a press conference called by Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard and House Speaker Todd Richardson.

The decision was made after 138 House members and 29 senators signed a petition  calling for the session on the controversies surrounding the governor. The session will begin an estimated 30 minutes after the regular session is set to end, Richard told reporters.

Richard was not sure when senators would actually convene because the upper chamber's duties are dependent on what the House does.

"Keep in mind, it's new territory," the Joplin Republican said.

Richardson was solemn in his announcement of the session.

"This path is not the one I would have chosen for Missouri and my colleagues," he said. "Unfortunately, this is where the facts led."

If the session leads to an impeachment, it would be a first for a Missouri governor. Only one state official has been ousted by impeachment in Missouri’s history. That was Secretary of State Judi Moriarty in 1994. 

The unprecedented move comes a day after the House released a second scathing report on the governor and sets the state for the special session to start during the governor's trial on felony invasion of privacy charges related to an extramarital affair he had in 2015.

The petition began circulating among Republican members on April 17. Under state law, three-fourths of House members — 123 of 163 — had to sign the document to call themselves into a special session, a power generally reserved for the governor.

In the Senate, 26 of 34 members had to sign in order to trigger the session.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said he favors a special session because it will allow a special House committee investigating Greitens to complete its work, as well as allows the House to meet without pause in the final weeks of the regular session.

“I think it’s prudent that we go into a special session,” Engler said. “By doing this, it gives us another 30 days.”

“I think this makes sense. This is what we need to do,” said House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City.

The push for a special session comes as Greitens battles for his political life.

He will be tried May 14 in St. Louis Circuit Court on a felony invasion of privacy charge alleging he took and transmitted a photo of his partially undressed lover without her consent. A second felony case charges him with felony computer tampering for taking the donor list in question. He also faces a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court over alleged destruction of public records.

Wednesday’s report found that Greitens ran an off-the-books political campaign in 2014, took a private charity’s donor list to raise campaign funds and lied about that list in a signed statement to the state’s ethics commission.

The report showed Greitens and associates lied in campaign filings, a class A misdemeanor, and violated campaign finance law — a civil offense — when he operated a shadow campaign before filing required paperwork with election authorities.

The report and its reams of exhibits plot the former Navy SEAL’s methodical rise from nonprofit founder to “conservative outsider” governor of Missouri — by relying on money he raised from members of the charity’s donor list that he had pledged to keep private.

Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, who has signed the petition for a special session but hasn't criticized the governor, said the second report didn't change his mind. However, he had a sense that it might edge the  Legislature closer to holding a special session.

"Every time something comes in," he said, "it moves people one way or the other."

Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek, has also signed the petition but not criticized the governor. He said he wants the special session because it would allow the body to focus on legislation in the final days of the regular session.

Sky Chadde contributed to this report.

(This story will be updated.)

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