Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, who resigned amid scandal two years ago, was cleared of wrongdoing by a state ethics panel last month. In the ensuing weeks he’s cast his legal and ethical travails over the past two years as an extension of the “witch hunt” against Donald Trump.
For that task, Greitens, a Republican, is leaning on some of the very people who peddled dubious conspiracy theories on Trump’s behalf ahead of and during his recent impeachment trial. Former The Hill columnist John Solomon, former White House official Sebastian Gorka, and One America News correspondent Chanel Rion have all come to Greitens’ defense of late, and the former governor has used his still-active campaign committee to turn their defenses into paid advertisements on his behalf.
All of this is taking place as Greitens ponders another run at the governorship he occupied in 2017 and 2018.
“Anything is a possibility,” he told a conservative radio host recently of the prospect of taking on the state’s incumbent Republican governor, Mike Parson. The filing deadline for that race is March 31, and Parsons is reportedly taking the primary threat seriously.
Greitens resigned in 2018 amid allegations of sexual assault and campaign finance violations. Missouri’s Ethics Commission exonerated him of the latter charges last month. The commission fined Greitens’ campaign $178,000 for two violations of state campaign finance laws related to the illicit sharing of financial and tactical information with a pair of supportive “dark money” nonprofit groups. But it “found no evidence of any wrongdoing on part of Eric Greitens, individually, and no evidence Gov. Greitens knew” about the illegal politicking.
In the weeks since that finding, Greiten has teed off on his critics in a host of media interviews. He dubbed the investigations against him “Joseph Stalin stuff.” And he sought to explicitly tie the investigations into his conduct to scrutiny faced at the national level by President Trump and his allies.
“Governor Greitens is glad to have been exonerated, and believes—as many do—that there are a lot of parallels to the effort to remove him from office and the attacks on Justice Kavanaugh and President Trump,” said Dylan Johnson, a spokesman for Greitens’ campaign, in an emailed statement. “Many people now see parallels, and we’re happy to get the message out that part of the left’s playbook has been exposed, and that Missouri may see the first case of someone going to prison for their criminal effort to overturn the 2016 election.”
Though Trump and Greitens have both cast investigations into them as illegitimate and politically tainted, investigations into both have also turned up wrongdoing. Neither man was found to have violated the law. But investigators in both cases implicated senior political aides and allies in illegal conduct.
Like Trump, Greitens has consistently maintained his innocence of all charges leveled against him, and alleged a conspiracy by political opponents to get him removed from office. To bolster his case, Greitens has pointed to the seven-count felony indictment last year of a former FBI agent involved in investigating the criminal allegations against him.
Greitens has also pointed to—and some Missouri lawmakers are still investigating—a $120,000 cash payment to an attorney representing the ex-husband of the woman who leveled sexual assault charges against Greitens in 2018. She accused him, under oath, of restraining and hitting her, forcing her to perform oral sex, and taking a compromising photo of her without her consent.
Prosecutors declined to bring charges against Greitens over those allegations, even as they alleged “probable cause” to believe a criminal offense occurred. Greitens has admitted to consensual sexual encounters with the woman, but consistently denied all allegations of assault and other sexual impropriety.
“What happened to me happened before the Brett Kavanaugh hearings,” he told a local radio host last month. “It happened before we knew about the Russia collusion hoax. It happened before the fake Ukraine Pelosi-driven impeachment. This is their playbook, and they use it to viciously attack people.”
As it happens, the pro-Greitens playbook resembles elements of Trump’s impeachment defense as well—down to the cast of characters involved.
Chief among them is Solomon, who has been working to unearth government records that he suspects will show the direct involvement of Democratic financier George Soros and other “high-level political donors” in Greitens’ prosecution. In January, he sued a St. Louis prosecutor for documents related to the Greitens case and requested under the state’s open records law.
Solomon is best known these days as the purveyor of much of the highly dubious reporting that accused Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden of using his position to benefit a Ukrainian energy company that employed his youngest son. And in his aggressive defense of Greitens since his acquittal last month, Solomon has leaned on some of the same tropes and themes he used then, including hyping the ostensible involvement of Soros, a prolific Democratic donor and longtime conservative bogeyman.
“Missouri case that toppled GOP governor boomerangs on Soros-backed prosecutor,” declared the headline of a report on the Ethics Commission investigation and decision authored by Solomon last week.
Much of Solomon’s work on the Greitens story has been published at the website Just The News, which he founded in January after he decamped from The Hill a few months earlier. But he’s also made the rounds on more prominent conservative media channels of late. On Friday, he sat down with former Trump White House official and radio host Sebastian Gorka for an interview on the Greitens affair.
“A terrifying story. And Soros is behind it all,” Gorka said of Solomon’s reporting. “Hear the shocking and terrifying story of how the far-left billionaire and his minions tried to destroy a governor and former Navy SEAL.”
Solomon has also popped up on Fox Business recently to share the details of his Greitens reporting. In a segment on Lou Dobbs’ show on Friday, Solomon told guest host Gregg Jarrett, “Everything that happened to President Trump in 2016 and ‘17 happened in Missouri. It got exported—the political weaponization of law enforcement got exported to the heartland.”
That phrasing was similar to language in the statement from Johnson, the Greitens campaign spokesman. “Whether someone is a liberal or a conservative, Democrat or Republican, this weaponization of the law should concern every American,” he wrote.
Greitens has worked to promote Solomon’s theory of a politically motivated prosecution more directly as well. Within hours of Solomon’s Fox hit last week, Greitens posted the clip on his Facebook page. A few days later, his campaign committee, which remains active, shelled out a few hundred bucks to promote the post in Missourians’ Facebook feeds.
It was one of eight Facebook ads that Greitens’ campaign has purchased since February, its first such ads since he resigned from the governorship. Greitens for Missouri, the official name of his campaign committee, has paid a total of $27,456 to promote the posts, according to Facebook advertising data.
Another of the recent Greitens ads promoted a column by former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik, whom Trump pardoned last month over four federal criminal criminal convictions that landed him in prison in 2010. Kerik is also a longtime friend and ally of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney and a central figure in the impeachment saga. (Giuliani said he wasn’t involved in pressing Greitens’ case. “Don’t know enough about it,” he told The Daily Beast in an email.)
“Greitens was attacked,” in Kerik’s telling, “because—like President Trump—he was an outsider who represented a threat to liberals nationally, and to politics as usual.”
Greitens’ campaign also paid to promote a segment on the right-wing One America News channel featuring commentary from Chanel Rion. She teamed up with Giuliani on a series of reports from Kiev late last year designed to clear both Trump and Giuliani of allegations of misconduct in their efforts to solicit a foreign government investigation into the Bidens.
“SOROS WITCH HUNT CRUSHED: FMR. GOP GOV. EXONERATED” declared the chyron on Rion’s Greitens segment. The Greitens campaign paid between $8,000 and $9,000 to promote that segment, according to Facebook data. Its ad reached more than a million Missourians.
The Greitens campaign’s first promoted Facebook post after the ethics commission decision contained a lengthy statement from Greitens himself. Its parallels to Trump’s own statements on his own legal and political travails are difficult to miss.
“We’ve been fully exonerated,” Greitens declared in that post. “Of course, this wasn’t really about me. It was an attack designed for one purpose: to overturn your votes, because we were fighting for you.”