But the first-term Republican governor still faces plenty of other problems
ST. LOUIS — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens declared victory Monday as prosecutors abruptly dropped a felony invasion-of-privacy charge alleging he had taken a revealing photo of a woman with whom he has acknowledged having an affair.
The St. Louis circuit attorney's office said it hopes still to pursue the case, either through a special prosecutor or an appointed assistant. But Greitens' attorneys said the case was crumbling under a lack of evidence and doubted any charge would ever be refiled.
The first-term Republican governor still faces plenty of other problems. The Legislature is to convene Friday in a monthlong special session to consider whether to impeach Greitens in an attempt to remove him from office. And Greitens still faces a second felony charge for allegedly disclosing a donor list from a St. Louis-based veterans' charity he founded for use in his political campaign.
Greitens, who has long denied any criminal wrongdoing, emerged from the courthouse Monday with at least a momentary vindication.
"Today the prosecutor has dropped the false charges against me. This is a great victory and it has been a long time coming," Greitens told reporters outside the St. Louis circuit courthouse. "This experience has been humbling and I have emerged from it a changed man."
The prosecutor's surprise move, announced after the third day of jury selection, came after the judge granted a request by Greitens' lawyers to call St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner as a witness. Greitens' defense team has repeatedly criticized Gardner's handling of the case, particularly her hiring of private investigator William Tisaby, whom Greitens' lawyers have accused of perjury.
"The court's order places the Circuit Attorney in the impossible position of being a witness, subject to cross-examination," including by her own subordinates, Gardner spokeswoman Susan Ryan said in a statement.
It "leaves the Circuit Attorney no adequate means of proceeding with this trial," Ryan said. "Therefore, the court has left the Circuit Attorney with no other legal option than to dismiss and refile this matter."
She said a decision will be made later to either seek a special prosecutor or appoint one of Gardner's assistants to proceed.
Greitens, 44, was charged with felony invasion of privacy for allegedly taking and transmitting a photo of an at least partially nude woman without her permission in 2015. If convicted, Greitens could have faced up to four years in prison. Greitens has denied criminal wrongdoing but has declined to directly answer questions about whether he took the photo.
Earlier Monday, Greitens' attorneys said in court that prosecutors had stopped searching for evidence of the photo after failing to find it on Greitens' cellphone or in cloud storage.
"The case was going nowhere. There was no evidence to support any of the elements," Greitens' attorney Jim Bennett told reporters after the charge was dropped.
Defense attorneys have cited a litany of concerns about Gardner's handling of the case. Among other things, they accused Tisaby, a former FBI agent, of lying when he said he did not take notes when he and Gardner on Jan. 29 interviewed the woman involved in the affair. A video of the interview belatedly provided to defense lawyers appears to show Tisaby taking notes.
Greitens has rejected calls to resign from both Republicans and Democrats since he first admitted in January that he had an affair before he was elected governor in 2016.
The woman, who has been identified only as K.S. in court filings, has testified that Greitens bound her hands to exercise equipment in March 2015 in the basement of his St. Louis home, blindfolded her and removed her clothes before she saw a flash and heard what sounded like the click of a cellphone camera. She has said Greitens threatened to disseminate the photo if she spoke of their encounter but later told her he had deleted it.
Greitens' indictment in February prompted the Missouri House to launch its own investigation. It released a report in April containing more testimony from the woman that Greitens had restrained, slapped, shoved, threatened and belittled her during a series of sexual encounters that at times left her crying and afraid.
The committee released a second report May 2 with testimony about how Greitens' gubernatorial campaign had used a donor list from The Mission Continues without the charity's permission. A trial date has not yet been set for the charge he faces in St. Louis for allegedly disclosing the donor list to his political fundraiser.