JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In a historic decision, the Missouri House formally launched an investigation Monday that could lead to the impeachment and ouster of Gov. Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL.
House Speaker Todd Richardson named seven members to a special committee that will lead the unprecedented probe of a Missouri chief executive. The hastily formed panel will be chaired by GOP state Rep. Jay Barnes of Jefferson City.
"We have worked over the weekend and through today to formulate that committee. I've asked the committee to begin its work this week," Richardson said.
The action by Richardson came just days after Greitens was charged by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner with felony invasion-of-privacy, stemming from an extramarital affair in 2015 to which he has admitted.
Greitens, who was not governor at the time, allegedly photographed the partially nude woman and threatened to disseminate the photograph if she exposed their relationship.
Barnes said the committee's work would be limited to looking at the alleged crime.
"Our focus is going to be on the underlying facts of the indictment and the circumstances surrounding them," Barnes said.
Neither he nor Richardson would say whether that might include calling on the woman to testify at any hearing. She has not been identified since the story of the relationship broke in January.
"This committee's task is going to investigate facts. We're going to do so in a way that is fair, thorough and timely," Barnes said. "And we're going to do it without any preordained results, which means we are going to be asking questions of witnesses on both sides and hope to have a process with full involvement from everyone involved in this matter."
The committee consists of Barnes and Republican Reps. Don Phillips of Kimberling City, Jeanie Lauer of Blue Springs, Kevin Austin of Springfield and Shawn Rhoads of West Plains.
Democratic representatives are Gina Mitten of Richmond Heights and Tommie Pierson Jr. of St. Louis.
Greitens, a political newcomer who won the 2016 general election with 51 percent of the vote over former Attorney General Chris Koster, has hired a private law firm to handle his case before Gardner, as well as a public relations company to help burnish an image that was once being groomed for a run for president.
Greitens did not immediately respond to the news of the House investigation. He spent part of Monday in Malden, a town in southeastern Missouri that was hit by a tornado Saturday.
"This is a resilient community. In the face of serious danger and damage, the faith, strength, and spirit of the community is unbroken," Greitens said in a statement.
Greitens has consistently said he will not resign over the allegations, but that isn't stopping lawmakers from continuing to call for him to step down.
"This is a huge distraction," said state Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville.
State Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said Greiten's changing explanation of the affair and his attack on Gardner was "sickening" to him.
Richardson said the investigation will not bring work in the chamber to a halt.
"That is not going to deter us or limit our ability to move forward on the priorities that the people of Missouri sent us here to do," Richardson said.
The action in the House drew opposition from some fellow Republicans.
State Sen. Dan Brown, a Rolla veterinarian who heads the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers should not be in a rush to judgment.
"In this country, our leaders are chosen by the people every four years at free and fair elections," Brown said. "This is the very foundation of our democracy and only in the most extreme cases, based on the most reliable facts, should anyone ever second-guess the will of the voters."
But U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., said she has "complete confidence" in Richardson to oversee the investigation.
"I have said from the very beginning how serious the allegations are. I think the indictment is a very, very serious matter. I called for a full investigation and that process is still playing out. The governor is entitled to his due process and day in court like any citizen is. However, elected officials and those in the position of public trust, I think, are held to a higher standard," Wagner said.
Wagner said she is not calling on Greitens to resign.
"That is up to the governor, and up to the investigators and the law enforcement who are looking into the matter and ultimately perhaps to the General Assembly," Wagner said.
This article was written by Kurt Erickson from St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.