By SUMMER BALLENTINE, Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Since he was indicted on allegations related to an extramarital affair, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has shifted into attack mode, zeroing in on the St. Louis prosecutor who launched the investigation with comments decried by some critics as politically or racially charged.
Grietens, a Republican accused of felony invasion of privacy, has been defiant and insists he committed no crime. He has repeatedly laid into St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, the city’s first black prosecutor and a former Democratic lawmaker.
In one sponsored Facebook post, the governor known for pursuing his political enemies called Gardner “anti-law enforcement.” In another, he labeled her as a “reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points.”
The tactics seem “par for the course for Greitens in publicly going after those who either disagree with him or get in his way,” said University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist David Kimball. The governor’s goal, he added, is probably to undermine public confidence in the prosecution.
The remarks drew criticism from a range of Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and a lawmaker who said the governor’s description of Gardner as “reckless” is a racial dog whistle.
“They’re attacking her capacity right now,” said Democratic Rep. Cora Faith Walker, who represents the St. Louis suburb where the fatal 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s astounding to me that this is happening in this day and age.”
The indictment alleges that Greitens took a nonconsensual photo of a nude or partially nude woman in March 2015, before he was elected, and transmitted it in a way that could be accessed by a computer.
Over the last week, his campaign has emailed supporters with links to Breitbart and other conservative sources describing Gardner as an anti-police prosecutor whose campaign was funded by liberal billionaire George Soros. Gardner received close to $200,000 in donations from a national super PAC partly funded by Soros.
“What she is doing is carrying water for Black Lives Matter, Antifa, George Soros and the many other groups on whose support she depends,” wrote Tom Lake, a retired St. Louis police sergeant, in a post emailed by Greitens’ campaign. “She sees a law-and-order Governor — and she attacks as only an anti-law enforcement prosecutor would.”
Greitens’ campaign manager, Austin Chambers, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press.
In response to Greitens’ criticism, Gardner spokeswoman Susan Ryan said the prosecutor “will not be playing political games during this process.”
The Rev. Darryl Gray, who led a rally this week outside a St. Louis courthouse to support Gardner, has said the attacks follow a well-established pattern of character assassination whenever a black leader “stands up and challenges the status quo.”
The governor campaigned heavily on the idea that he would support law enforcement and members of the military. He regularly works out with police officers and troops.
McCaskill said lashing out at a top prosecutor is itself an attack on the rule of law.
“There are people supporting the governor that are trying to distort this process and make it about politics,” McCaskill said. “That’s unfortunate and, frankly, I think it’s disrespectful to law enforcement in general.”
The investigation that led to the indictment appears to be widening. Attorneys for several of the governor’s staff members have confirmed that their clients have been served with grand jury subpoenas.
On Thursday, the Missouri House authorized its own investigation, which could be used to initiate impeachment proceedings.