ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - The trial of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens over a sex scandal began on Thursday as the Republican politician faced mounting pressure to resign.
Jury selection got under way in a state circuit court in St. Louis, and opening statements were expected to begin early next week in a case that has state lawmakers weighing impeachment.
Greitens, who smiled in court several times on Thursday morning as the jury selection process began, is charged with felony invasion of privacy in connection with an admitted extramarital affair in 2015 before his election. He has said he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing and called the relationship in question consensual. He has vowed to remain in office while he fights to clear his name.
The 44-year-old governor is accused of taking a photo of his lover in a state of undress without her consent and making it accessible by computer to use as retaliation should she divulge their relationship. He has denied threatening to blackmail her.
The alleged offense occurred in March 2015, the year before Greitens, a married father of two and former U.S. Navy SEAL commando, was elected governor. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.
The backlash against Greitens, a onetime rising star in the Republican Party, grew after he was charged in a separate case with computer tampering. Prosecutors allege he obtained and transmitted a donor list from a military veterans charity he founded in 2007 without the charity’s consent to aid his political fund-raising.
The Republican-controlled Missouri legislature will convene a special session on May 18 to consider impeachment or other discipline. No Missouri governor has ever been impeached.
Greitens has cast himself as the victim of a “political witch hunt” in both cases, which were brought by Kim Gardner, the Democratic circuit attorney for the city of St. Louis.
Greitens’ lawyers have noted the alleged photograph has never been produced. The woman testified to state lawmakers she believes the picture was taken while she was bound, blindfolded and partially nude in Greitens’ basement.
The woman, a hair stylist, described in a state legislative report released last month a tumultuous, months-long affair punctuated by instances of physical abuse, jealous rage and manipulative behaviour by Greitens.
The scandal may tarnish the Republican Party and dim its hopes of ousting Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat regarded as one of the more politically vulnerable senators in the upcoming November congressional elections.
Reporting by Sue Britt; writing by Ben Klayman; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis