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It took 15 years of war to give the United States its first post-9/11 veteran governor. It took a year and two days in office for voters to learn what a terrible hypocrite he was.
Eric Greitens, a highly decorated Navy SEAL officer, Rhodes scholar, and pro-vet philanthropist who made his traditional family values the centerpiece of a successful 2016 campaign for governor of Missouri, admitted yesterday to an extramarital affair with a woman back in 2015.
"A few years ago, before Eric was elected Governor, there was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage," Greitens and his wife said last night in a statement provided by their attorney. “This was a deeply personal mistake.”
Sorry, that doesn’t cut it — not for a former lieutenant commander who got where he is by touting his experience in the service, and who probably knows UCMJ Articles 133 and 134 backward and forward. “It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner,” John Paul Jones once wrote (in a letter Greitens surely read in NROTC). “He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.”
Instead of personal honor, this public servant gave us a self-serving account of his “deeply personal mistake” — and he delivered it right around the same time that the journalists at St. Louis-based KMOV aired the results of their “months-long” investigation into Greitens’ infidelity. KMOV had been tipped off with an audio recording made secretly by the soon-to-be-ex-husband of Greitens’ paramour — his hairstylist — in which the married couple discussed her March 2015 affair with the aspiring politician.
You can read the woman’s description of that first tryst at Greitens’ house here, including when the future governor, a graduate of BUD/S Class 237, reportedly invited the woman downstairs, saying, “I want to show you how to do a proper pull-up.” (“I knew he was being sexual and I still let him,” she told her husband.) She also claimed he bound, blindfolded, and photographed her, threatening to release the photo if anyone learned of their relationship — a threat he later apologized for, according to her recorded account.
The report and the tape are full of serious allegations, most of which Greitens, through his lawyer, denied Jan. 10. “The claim that this nearly three-year old story has generated or should generate law enforcement interest is completely false,” that statement said. “There was no blackmail and that claim is false.”
Greitens’ argument boils down to: Yes, the affair allegations are true, but everything else is false. Even if you’re telling the truth, that’s a poor position to be in.
But the Navy SEAL put himself there. Greitens, the recipient of a Bronze Star and Purple Heart after four deployments. The inspiring founder of The Mission Continues, which helps transitioning vets find avenues of service in their civilian communities. The author of multiple hot-selling memoirs and advice books. The setter of so many positive records and milestones for a young generation that’s been defined by its sacrifices in indeterminate wars. And yes, the occasional contributor to Task & Purpose over the years.
“I’ve failed dozens of times to be the leader, friend, husband, son, cousin, boss, and brother that I know I can be,” he wrote in his bestseller on mental resilience, which we excerpted under the headline “A Navy SEAL’s Advice On Living A More Fulfilling Life” in April 2015 — just weeks after he and the unnamed woman began their secret affair, according to KMOV’s timeline.
Greitens traded on his military caste’s reputation for forthrightness and accountability to attain a position of power and privilege. Now, he says, he’s fully accounted for this affair and the damage it did. “Eric took responsibility, and we dealt with this together honestly and privately,” his attorney’s statement said. “We have a loving marriage and an awesome family; anything beyond that is between us and God,” his wife tweeted. He’s right with his wife, he’s right with God; who else is he accountable to?
But that’s not for him to decide. His office, and his personal brand, constituted a public trust. His journey to the statehouse began in late 2015 when he ascended a stage and announced his candidacy with these words: “I'm Eric Greitens, I'm a Navy SEAL, native Missourian and most importantly, a proud husband and father."
He said that, knowing — and concealing — that just months before, he was sexually involved with another woman in his house. He said it in hopes that enough voters would share his apparent values to elect him as their highest representative.
Contrition is his responsibility. Accountability is ours. He can do his penance on his time, not on ours — and not while he’s sitting in an executive office he secured under false pretenses of moral uprightness. You can’t lead with honor if you’re fundamentally dishonest. Eric Greitens knows that as well as any other naval officer.
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