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Missouri governor’s lawyers and prosecutors struck an unusual deal: A resignation in exchange for a dropped felony charge

Missouri governor’s lawyers and prosecutors struck an unusual deal: A resignation in exchange for a dropped felony charge
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens after announcing his resignation in the governor's office Tuesday. (Robert Cohen / St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

In the end, the governor’s office became a bargaining chip. A bit of leverage, which could be traded to prosecutors in return for them dropping a felony computer tampering charge.

Attorneys for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens had approached prosecutors last weekend to propose a deal, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis city circuit attorney’s office said Wednesday.

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A cloud of controversies had surrounded Greitens’ administration in recent months, including allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. In St. Louis, Greitens faced a felony computer tampering charge on allegations that he improperly took a list of donors from his charity for veterans and then used the list to solicit donors to his 2016 gubernatorial campaign.

The deal proposed by Greitens’ attorneys was this: If St. Louis prosecutors dropped the case, Greitens would resign from office. The prosecutor, Kimberly Gardner, agreed to it.

Representatives for Greitens and the prosecutor’s office revealed the arrangement in interviews Wednesday as Missouri prepared for Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Parson to replace Greitens, also a Republican, who was expected to step down at the end of the week.

At a Tuesday news conference in Jefferson City, the state capital, Greitens had indicated that the reason for his resignation — after months of resisting calls for him to step down, including from state Republican leaders — was the strain of mounting legal fees and personal attacks being leveled by political enemies.

“I know, and people of good faith know, that I am not perfect, but I have not broken any laws nor committed any offense worthy of this treatment," Greitens said Tuesday.

He did not reveal the agreement he had with prosecutors in St. Louis.

An attorney for the governor, Jim Martin, acknowledged in an email Wednesday that Gardner had agreed to drop charges if Greitens resigned. “But that was in no way the driver for the governor’s decision,” he said. He did not respond to additional questions about how the deal unfolded.

The agreement was an unusual development. Across the U.S., defendants often make plea arrangements with prosecutors in which they agree to plead guilty in exchange for lesser charges, lighter sentences, or to testify against other defendants.

In this instance, a guilty plea appears to have been off the table. And Gardner, who had been locked in an intense legal battle with Greitens’ lawyers in recent months, agreed to the deal.

“Sometimes, pursuing charges is not the right or just thing to do for our city or state,” Gardner said in a statement Wednesday, announcing that “the most fair and just way to resolve this situation” was to drop the felony computer tampering charge against the governor.

Gardner said it would have been unlikely that Greitens would have faced prison time if he were convicted, since Greitens had no previous convictions.

What’s less clear is whether Greitens would have resigned regardless of whether the St. Louis prosecutor had not taken the deal.

Greitens still faces accusations that he photographed his hairdresser, naked, without her permission, to blackmail her into keeping their affair quiet. He denies the accusations. A Kansas City-area prosecutor is still deciding whether to file charges.

“No deals were made by my office,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who was appointed to determine whether to charge Greitens over the sexual misconduct allegations, said in a statement Tuesday. She said her review of the case “will be pursued without fear or favor.”

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Before announcing his resignation, Greitens had faced threats of impeachment and a legislative investigation about whether he had broken any campaign finance laws, including soliciting contributions from foreign donors.

Greitens’ replacement, Parson, is a longtime politician in the state and a former member of the Legislature, where Greitens’ 16 months in office had alienated some Republican leaders.

“This is an enormous responsibility serving as our state's next governor, and I am ready to fulfill the duties of the office with honor and integrity, and with a steadfast commitment to making our great state even greater for the people were are entrusted to serve,” Parson said in a statement.

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