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Greitens delivers State of the State address

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens delivers his annual State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, to a joint session of the legislature in Jefferson City. Lt. Gov. Michael Parson (left), listens. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • The woman at the center of possible blackmail allegations aimed at Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens asked the media and the public for privacy Friday.

Through her attorneys at the St. Charles-based Knight & Simpson law firm, she asked reporters to leave her alone.

“This story has taken an emotional toll on our client, and she is extremely distraught that the information has been made public,” a statement from the law firm said. “It is very disappointing that her ex-husband betrayed her confidence by secretly, and without her knowledge, recording a private and deeply personal conversation and then subsequently released the recording to the media without her consent.”

“She wants to remain a private citizen and does not want to be a part of this story,” the statement read. “We are asking the media and the public to continue respecting her privacy.”

On Wednesday, hours after delivering his second State of the State address, Greitens admitted to a past extramarital affair in a statement first delivered to KMOV (Channel 4). The governor has subsequently denied any violence or blackmail against the woman with whom he had an affair — a defense spawned by allegations in an account and an audio recording released by her ex-husband.

The Post-Dispatch has not identified the woman, who has declined repeated interview requests.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has launched a criminal investigation into Greitens. In an audio recording the woman’s ex-husband said he surreptitiously made in 2015, the woman said Greitens took a compromising photo of her and said he would release it if she told anyone of their affair.

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office declined to discuss the investigation Friday. The woman’s statement did not note whether she was prepared to cooperate with the investigation, and an attempt to reach her attorney was not successful late Friday afternoon.

The statement issued by her attorneys did not refute or endorse the allegations made in the audio recording.

In response to the woman’s statement, an attorney for the ex-husband said his client was committed to protecting the interests of his family.

“Our client simply seeks to finally get this epic real life drug store novel in his rear view mirror,” attorney Albert Watkins said.

The woman’s plea for privacy came as Greitens was contacting state lawmakers to apologize for the scandal, which has stalled action in the Legislature and upended Missouri’s political world.

Five Republican lawmakers told the Post-Dispatch that they received calls from the governor since the news of the affair broke Wednesday.

The phone calls underscore the lengths to which Greitens, a Republican, is going to preserve his political career. In the past, Greitens has derided members of the Legislature, at one point comparing them to third-graders and calling them into Jefferson City for two special sessions last summer, which he called “summer school.”

Now, he is seeking their support as well as trying to shore up support among his donors.

Greitens spent much of the day Friday in the capital city, including time at the offices of A New Missouri Inc., a dark-money nonprofit established by his campaign aides to promote his agenda.

It was unclear why he was at an office that has used money from unnamed donors to attack senators and finance pro-business proposals. Greitens did not stop to answer questions from the Post-Dispatch as he left the office by an alley exit.

He was later seen entering the Capitol.

A separate request for an interview with the chief executive was unsuccessful.

Lawmakers react

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said Greitens called him Thursday. He said the governor took ownership of the affair but blamed political adversaries for the allegations of blackmail.

“He basically said that he did have an affair. He was sorry about that. He said other allegations about blackmail and the photograph are false,” Koenig said. “On the points he said he did not do, he did blame Democrats.”

Koenig said he was deeply troubled by the allegations of blackmail.

“If those allegations turn out to be true, I asked that he resign,” Koenig said. “If they are not true, we need to find a way to move forward. I told him that he has damaged his ability to work with us. He’s damaged that trust.”

Another GOP lawmaker said Greitens was noticeably angry in a phone call when speaking of the allegations, which he has denied.

“I could tell when he spoke of the allegations, there was anger there,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring. “His passion rose when he talked about fighting back on the allegations of criminal activity.”

Another GOP lawmaker recounted a call from the governor and his wife, Sheena Greitens, on Thursday. The lawmaker spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“He said he wanted to apologize,” the lawmaker said. “He started to lash at the liberal media and Democrats, and I cut him off, and I said, ‘This is a legitimate news story.’ And I said, ‘With all due respect, your infidelity is very disappointing. And I’m disappointed and the caucus is disappointed and I think it needs to be reported on.’”

The lawmaker said the scandal reflected poorly on “every public servant.” The lawmaker added that the Legislature was mostly made up of serious people who seek to do good.

“Most of my colleagues who are there are very serious public servants,” the lawmaker said, adding it has slowed this year’s legislative agenda. “It sets us back. We don’t know how long. We don’t know about his ability to govern, and people are upset. They’re disappointed.

“If you mention the name of someone who has had to leave because of a scandal,” the lawmaker said, “everyone in the room makes a disgusting noise and says that person better never show his face in the Capitol again. They don’t like what — how it reflects on the body.

“If Eric Greitens were a House member, he’d be gone already,” the lawmaker said.

Public appearances

On Friday, pressure also began to build publicly from Missouri’s congressional delegation.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told the “E.J. and Ellen Show” on KMBZ in Kansas City that the story was “unfortunate for the governor, his family, for the state in terms of any distraction that this creates.”

Pressed on the blackmail allegations, Blunt said that “the governor says he didn’t do that.” Blunt said he agreed with Attorney General Josh Hawley that it should be investigated by local prosecutors.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, called the report “deeply disturbing.”

“I am hopeful that a full and immediate investigation can be completed without further damage to the families impacted,” Wagner said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said: “Like a lot of Missourians, I’m still struggling to process the news of the past 24 hours. These allegations are shocking, and I’m concerned about the children who are touched by this.”

As part of an effort to promote a series of tax cuts, Greitens is expected to launch a statewide tour that will hit seven communities over four days.

“It is the boldest state tax reform in America,” Greitens said in his State of the State speech Wednesday, just hours before he admitted having had the affair.

He and his aides have declined to offer any specifics of his plan, and they have not confirmed the governor’s schedule.

Initially potential stops appeared to include Springfield, Kansas City, Macon and Joplin.

The events had been listed online, but on Friday night those listings disappeared.

Chuck Raasch of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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