Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ rise has been rapid and colorful. As a Navy SEAL, he won a bronze star and a purple heart. Then he quickly became a Republican golden boy.
Elected in 2016 at age 42 with no previous political experience, he is the nation’s second youngest governor (after New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu). His swift ascent included a Rhodes Scholarship, military service targeting terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa, a stint as a White House Fellow and founder of a national veterans organization.
He had been a Democrat up until 2015 when he switched parties to run for governor as a Republican. Donald Trump’s 19-point win in Missouri helped him beat a two term Democratic attorney general who had won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
But Missouri political insiders have viewed Jefferson City as just a pit stop for the ambitious Greitens. And they apparently aren’t the only ones: according to funding records examined by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, his gubernatorial run was fueled by $3.3 million in donations from wealthy Republicans in 37 states outside Missouri.
“Obviously this outside money is grooming him for a presidential run,” says St Louis University Political Science Professor Ken Warren.
Greitens has not been secretive about his ambitions. Eight years ago, he reserved the website name “EricGreitensForPresident.com”. His tenure in office has included trips to political events in Iowa, Michigan, Virginia and Nebraska. His drive was apparently evident even during his military service. Sources told ABC News that some of his fellow SEALs saw him as someone who joined the unit for the political advantage it would garner.
But the latest turn in his storied career may alter his anticipated future. Only hours after he delivered the state of the state address to Missouri’s legislature, a local St. Louis television station reported that the rising political star had an extra-marital affair in 2015. The station obtained a tape recording of the woman confessing the affair to her then husband. Not only did she and Greitens engage in consensual sex, according to the tape, but the activity included bondage and the details that Greitens took a picture of the naked woman, intending it for blackmail to keep her from revealing their relationship.
Greitens and his wife, Sheena, issued a joint statement Wednesday night after the report aired, admitting that “he was unfaithful in our marriage” and that “this was a deeply personal mistake. Eric took responsibility and we dealt with this together honestly and privately.”
A separate statement from Greitens' attorney denied the suggestion of blackmail. The attorney, Jim Bennett, wrote in an email Thursday that any allegation of violence is "completely false." He said Greitens and the woman had a consensual relationship.
The question now is whether this “deeply personal mistake” will deeply damage the bright public career of an up-and-coming Republican star.
“He has really awesome credentials: educational credentials, military credentials, do-gooder organization credentials," Warren said. "So I would say this scandal is something that would hurt him more than a lot of people because he’s got so much on the line that he can throw away, or possibly has thrown away, by this embarrassing affair.”