COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, now a leading Republican Senate candidate, was physically abusive and demonstrated such “unstable and coercive behavior” that steps were taken to limit his access to firearms, according to new allegations from his ex-wife revealed in court records on Monday.
A sworn affidavit from Sheena Greitens is part of an ongoing child custody dispute in Missouri. A public affairs professor at the University of Texas, she sought divorce from Eric Greitens after a sex scandal which led to his resignation as governor in June 2018. She's now asking the court to move the custody case to the Austin area, in part to spare her children from renewed public attention as Eric Greitens tries to mount a political comeback.
Eric Greitens called the allegations “completely fabricated" and "baseless."
"I am seeking full custody of my sons, and for their sake, I will continue to pray for their mother and hope that she gets the help that she needs,” he said in a statement issued from his Twitter account.
His attorney on Monday asked a judge to block the affidavit from public view, saying open access could cause “irreparable harm to his reputation and his candidacy.”
An attorney for Sheena Greitens did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The allegations could complicate his bid to emerge from Missouri's Aug. 2 primary as the GOP nominee and potentially jeopardize his party's chance to hold onto a key Senate seat in the general election.
In the affidavit, Sheena Greitens casts her ex-husband as someone who threatened to use his political connections and influence in order to destroy her reputation to win custody of the children.
“Prior to our divorce, during an argument in late April 2018, Eric knocked me down and confiscated my cell phone, wallet and keys so that I was unable to call for help or extricate myself and our children from our home,” Sheena Greitens wrote in the filing. “I became afraid for my safety and that of our children at our home,” later adding that his “behavior included physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then-3-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by his hair.”
In 2019, one of her sons came home from a visit with his dad “with a swollen face, bleeding gums and loose tooth,” she said.
“He said Dad had hit him; however, Eric said they were roughhousing and it had been an accident,” Sheena Greitens wrote, adding that the tooth eventually had to be removed.
Once a swing state, Missouri has become more reliably Republican in recent years. But the race to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt is nonetheless receiving national attention because some in the GOP establishment are anxious that, with the allegations released on Monday and previous scandals, Greitens would face vulnerabilities against a Democrat. And with the Senate evenly divided, the GOP can't afford to lose what would otherwise be a safe seat.
Other candidates in the race on Monday called for Greitens to end his campaign.
“Real men never abuse women and children. Period, end of story,” GOP U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler said in a recorded statement posted on Twitter. “It’s time for Eric to get out of the Senate race and to get professional help.”
Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is also running, tweeted: “The behavior described in this affidavit is cause for Eric Greitens to be in prison, not on the ballot for U.S. Senate.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican who will become Missouri's senior senator when Blunt steps down, also said it was “time for Eric Greitens to leave this race.”
“If you hit a woman or a child, you belong in handcuffs, not the United States Senate,” he tweeted.
Greitens was a rising GOP star after his 2016 election, a charismatic former Navy SEAL officer and Rhodes Scholar who founded a nonprofit benefiting veterans. He didn’t hide his ambition, either, reserving the website EricGreitensForPresident.com.
But that all seemed to fade after he was indicted on an invasion-of-privacy charge in February 2018 in St. Louis, accused of taking a compromising photo of his hairstylist without her consent during a 2015 extramarital affair. In short order, a Missouri House committee began investigating campaign finance issues, and Greitens faced a second felony charge in St. Louis.
Eric Greitens mostly kept a low profile after his resignation in 2018. That changed last year after the Missouri Ethics Commission found probable cause” that Greitens’ campaign broke campaign finance law, but also “found no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Eric Greitens, individually.”
Greitens said the ruling “fully exonerated” him.
Sheena Greitens' affidavit, however, offers a bleak picture of his waning days as governor. At one point, she said, Eric Greitens purchased a gun but refused to tell her where it was. He also threatened to kill himself “unless I provided specific public political support,” she wrote.
The behavior was so alarming, she wrote, that on three separate occasions in February, April and May 2018, “multiple people other than myself were worried enough to intervene to limit Eric’s access to firearms."
“I started sleeping in my children’s room simply to try to keep them safe,” she wrote.
At one point, Eric Greitens made a reference to the fact that he had the children — and she didn't — while trying to persuade Sheena Greitens to delete emails she had sent to the family therapist seeking help, according to the affidavit.
“Eric threatened to accuse me of child abuse if I did not delete the emails and convince the therapist to delete them,” she wrote.
She also said that during the same phone call, Eric Greitens berated her as a “hateful, disgusting, nasty, vicious ... lying b - - - h” while accusing her of providing information about him to prosecutors and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper.
A few weeks later, he grew angry and confronted her when she tried to fly with the children to her parents’ house, she said.
He “threatened to come to the airport and have me arrested for kidnapping and child abuse, saying that because of his authority as a former governor who had supported law enforcement, the police would support him and not believe me."
In 2020, after informing Eric Greitens that she accepted a job at the University of Texas, she said he threatened “to use his political influence to get my job offer revoked.”
Her ex-husband's reemergence in politics has been taxing, Sheena Greitens said in the affidavit. Meanwhile, his past ability to influence law enforcement and appoint judges, as well as the even greater power he would obtain as a senator are “extremely intimidating,” she wrote.
“Now that Eric is a candidate for federal office, public interest in my life, my relationship with Eric and the breakdown thereof, and the existence of issues of custody between Eric and me are being re-kindled and brought back into central public discussion,” Sheena Greitens wrote.
“The weight of these facts and the intimidation they cause” justifies moving the case to Texas, she wrote, where “the reach of his power and influence is significantly less.”
Slodysko reported from Washington.