Gov. Eric Greitens wants to talk to Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner. After all, the veteran congresswoman and former party chairman could have a big say in whether the embattled governor continues in office.
Greitens tried to call the Republican congresswoman from Ballwin, Missouri, after a grand jury handed down a felony invasion of privacy indictment against him on Feb. 22.
“The governor has reached out to Congresswoman Wagner, but she was unavailable and the two have not yet had a chance to connect,” said Brecht Mulvihill, Wagner’s campaign manager, in a statement.
Mulvihill declined to comment further.
There are some important political reasons why Greitens might feel the need to talk to Wagner — and ensure she doesn’t openly join calls for his resignation.
She’s one of only two GOP women in the Missouri House delegation and has been a leader on sexual assault and sex trafficking legislation in Congress. A bill she sponsored that would give prosecutors more power to hold websites accountable for advertising the sale of sex trafficking victims passed the House on Tuesday, 388-25.
Wagner also is a prolific fundraiser, with more money in the bank than any other Missouri House member. She is a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee and former state GOP chairwoman.
Greitens is facing an investigation by the Missouri House of Representatives on top of an ongoing grand jury probe led by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
The investigations stem from an affair Greitens admitted with his former hairdresser, who was recorded by her ex-husband saying that Greitens taped her hands to a pull-up bar in his basement and photographed her nude in 2015. Greitens denies allegations that he took the photo to blackmail the woman.
A grand jury in St. Louis indicted the governor on the felony violation of privacy charge last week. The indictment accuses Greitens of knowingly photographing the woman and transmitting the image “in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer.”
Asked about why the governor tried to speak to Wagner and whether other members of the delegation have received similar outreach, Greitens spokesman Parker Briden would not confirm anything members or their offices had told The Star. He said he wouldn’t discuss the governor’s private conversations.
“I’m not sure who’s pushing bad info to you, but their facts are wrong,” he said in an email.
In last year’s Republican primary for governor, Wagner was a strong supporter of her close friend Catherine Hanaway, who lost to Greitens. Wagner also represents a suburban St. Louis district where she could face more pressure than other lawmakers in the state to call for Greitens to resign.
In reaching out to Wagner, Greitens likely is “trying to rally some support even if that support is to say nothing,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan publication that analyzes for U.S. Senate, House and Governors races.
“What they’re trying to prevent is — given the whole background of #MeToo (the movement against sexual harassment) — for her not to just come out and tell him to resign,” Duffy said. “And she’s going to be under a certain amount of pressure because of her district to do that. So it’s a little bit about suburban St. Louis and her position as a party leader and a woman, and just, ‘Don’t throw us under the bus, please.’”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told The Kansas City Star on Tuesday that he had not received call from Greitens since the governor’s indictment.
Neither had Missouri GOP Rep. Sam Graves, although Graves did stop by the governor’s mansion recently as a courtesy visit while he was in Jefferson City to file his paperwork for re-election, according to his office. It’s unknown what they discussed.
“Eric should be allowed his day in court,” Graves said in a statement after his visit to the governor’s mansion. “He admitted he made a mistake before taking office. We should let the process play itself out in a fair manner. Give the guy his right to fight.”
Graves’ visit to the mansion shouldn’t come as surprise. His brother Todd was Greitens’ pick to serve as chairman of the Missouri, which has been the governor's most vocal defender since the indictment.
The Graves family is also close with Jeff Roe, the veteran Republican consultant who helped launch Sam Graves’ career. One Roe’s lieutenants, Aaron Baker, registered on Wednesday to lobby ay the Missouri Capitol on behalf of the governor.
Graves and Roe also are close to Stan Herzog, the St. Joseph businessman who gave Greitens campaign $650,000 in 2016. Herzog’s company owns a building that houses Greitens’ political nonprofit organization in Jefferson City.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler and other Republican members of Missouri’s congressional delegation did not respond to multiple inquiries from The Star about whether they had received any calls or invitations from Greitens to visit the governor’s mansion.
Hartzler and other delegation members also did not respond to requests for comment on the governor’s indictment.
Wagner told the St. Louis Post Dispatch this week that the indictment against Greitens is a “very, very serious matter.”
She said she has 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.
She stopped short of saying the governor should resign.
The Kansas City Star’s Jason Hancock contributed to this report from Jefferson City, Mo.