Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced his campaign for Senate on Fox News, attempting to launch a comeback three years after resigning from office following a probe into allegations of sexual and campaign misconduct.
“I think that now the people of Missouri need a fighter in the United States Senate,” said Greitens on Monday, according to a clip he posted on Twitter. “They need somebody who’s going to go as I will, as I’m committed to do, to defending President Trump’s America First policies and also to protecting the people of Missouri from Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s radical leftist agenda. So we’re excited. We got a great grassroots team, and we’re in this race.”
Greitens’ candidacy has prompted worries among an array of Republicans in Missouri politics and in Washington, as he has been courting pro-Trump voices in the media and hinting at a potential bid. They fear that Greitens could emerge from a crowded primary field and put at risk a safe Republican seat, much as Republican Todd Akin did when he lost to Democrat Claire McCaskill nearly a decade ago. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and US Reps. Ann Wagner, Billy Long and Jason Smith are among the potential candidates for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt.
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley told CNN on Tuesday he stood by his call in 2018 for Greitens to resign.
“I wouldn’t change any of that,” said Hawley. “I stand by all my previous statements.”
Greitens stepped down from office after revelations of a 2015 affair with a woman who testified under oath to state lawmakers that she felt forced into sexual acts by him and that he had threatened to release explicit photos of her if she revealed their relationship. Greitens admitted to the affair, but denied ever engaging in blackmail, coercion or acts of sexual violence.
After his resignation, Greitens claimed that he had been “exonerated” by subsequent events, noting that an investigator in his case was charged with perjury and evidence tampering. At the time he stepped down, he maintained that the allegations against him were part of a “political witch hunt” perpetrated by his enemies.
“We hope the truth continues to come out in this race, and that the mainstream media will report it,” Greitens said Monday on Fox. “After a 20-month investigation by the Missouri Ethics Commission, they came out and said that we are completely exonerated. They found no evidence of any wrongdoing by Eric Greitens.”
“We resigned because at the time it was what I needed to do for the people who I love the most,” he added. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because I knew that all these accusations were false.”
A Missouri panel last year found “no evidence of any wrongdoing” by Greitens following an investigation into allegations of misconduct by his 2016 gubernatorial campaign, even as investigators faulted his campaign for failing to report legal in-kind contributions by two groups.
As part of the Missouri Ethics Commission’s ruling, Greitens agreed that his campaign would amend its reports to reflect the in-kind contributions and pay roughly $178,000 in fees to the commission.
Greitens said on a local radio show this month that he wasn’t deterred by opposition to his Senate candidacy.
“For a lot of the insiders, the cabal, the establishment, this is their little profit system,” said Greitens. “It doesn’t surprise me that there are insiders and lobbyists and establishment folks who don’t want to see us in, but we don’t work for them.”
In his interview Monday on Fox, Greitens touted his background serving four tours as a Navy SEAL who returned home after his truck in Iraq was hit by a suicide bomber to start a nonprofit organization, the Mission Continues, to benefit veterans.
“We pulled together a fantastic team of people to help veterans who had PTSD, who had traumatic brain injury, who’d lost eyesight, who’d lost limbs, and we were able to save lives together,” said Greitens.
He said that as governor he “took on the establishment,” “killed a politician’s pay raise,” “ended a corrupt tax credit program” and “stood side by side with our police officers” to “restore law and order and defeat Antifa,” an umbrella term for far-left militant groups.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN’s Manu Raju and Rebecca Buck contributed to this report.