Missouri lawmakers reacted to news of Gov. Eric Greitens' St. Louis indictment on a felony invasion of privacy charge Thursday with a mixture of shock, outrage and caution.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, initially said he needed time to review the indictment, while noting concern about the governor's leadership in the fallout.
"It is not my position to determine the governor's guilt or innocence. That is for a court to decide," Kehoe told the News Tribune in an emailed statement. "However, the news of his indictment today causes me to question whether the governor has the ability to effectively lead the state going forward.
"His actions have damaged the reputation of the office. As a Navy SEAL, the governor knows well the responsibilities of command and leadership. I take no pleasure in questioning his leadership ability going forward, but I do so with the confidence that Missouri is greater than one individual. My primary concern is, and will continue to be, the best interest of the state of Missouri."
Speaker of the House Todd Richardson, Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo issued a joint statement echoing questions about Greitens' leadership ability: "We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the questions as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward. The people of Missouri deserve no less. We will begin the process of tasking a group of legislators to investigate these serious charges."
Democratic leaders and others called for the Republican governor to be removed from office.
"It will be extremely difficult for the governor to effectively do his job with a felony indictment hanging over his head," House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said in a statement. "While the criminal justice system must run its course, the governor needs to consider whether remaining in office under these circumstances is the right thing to do for not only himself and his family but for the people of Missouri."
State Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, called for Greitens' immediate resignation.
"I am disgusted to learn that a grand jury has found sufficient evidence to indict Gov. Greitens on a felony charge. The conservative values that put us in office are far bigger than any single person ," Rowden said in a tweet Thursday. "Should he refuse to step aside, I will call on my colleagues in the House to take all necessary actions to remove the governor from office."
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called for Richardson to begin impeachment proceedings in the House.
"Gov. Eric Greitens has to go," Nasheed said in a statement. "Missourians thought they voted for a person of character and integrity, and instead they got a liar and alleged criminal."
State Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, echoed questions about Greitens' ability to lead in a statement Friday.
"I do believe it will be difficult for the governor to lead and govern our state while these charges are pending. The governor must not only do what is right for the state of Missouri, but also what is right for his children and his wife," Hoskins said. "I urge the governor to swiftly decide if he will have the ability to discharge the powers and duties of his office."
Other legislators representing Mid-Missouri communities - including Sen. Jeanie Riddle and Reps. Jay Barnes, Mike Bernskoetter and Sara Walsh - either could not be reached or did not respond immediately Thursday evening to requests for comment.
Walsh later released a statement Saturday via Facebook, detailing her caution about taking a position: "Unlike a number of my respected colleagues in the Missouri General Assembly, I believe it is premature to offer an opinion on whether Gov. Greitens should go, simply because I respect the legal and House processes to hear the evidence needed to make such a weighty decision."
She continued: "A key and legitimate question is whether the very existence of charges hanging over Gov. Greitens' head is preventing him from carrying out his duties. From what I have observed, Gov. Greitens is forging ahead with his plans for moving our state forward. The House, in which I proudly serve, is doing likewise. If and when I am called upon to take this historic and critical vote, I will make an informed decision free of conjecture, emotion, and political opportunism."