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Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens admits extramarital affair but denies reports he blackmailed woman

Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, responding to media reports, acknowledged Wednesday night that he was unfaithful to his wife "a few years ago" before being elected. But his lawyer denied sensational allegations aired by a local TV station that Greitens threatened to distribute naked photos of the woman with whom he was having a relationship if she ever said anything about it.

The woman, who has not been named publicly, was Greitens' hair stylist, according to media reports confirmed by The Washington Post with a source familiar with the situation.

A joint statement posted Wednesday night by Greitens and his wife, Sheena, said in part that "a few years ago . . . there was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage. This was a deeply personal mistake. Eric took responsibility, and we dealt with this together honestly and privately."

Greitens, 44, is a relatively new bright star in the Republican Party who boasts an extraordinary resume: Former Navy SEAL and lieutenant commander, attended Duke University on scholarship; Rhodes scholar at Oxford; PhD, author and White House Fellow during the administration of former president George W. Bush. He is the author of "Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life" and, according to a profile in St. Louis Magazine, has had presidential aspirations since he was a young man. His wife, Sheena Chestnut Greitens, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for East Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

A Democrat-turned-Republican, Greitens was elected governor in Nov. 2016 after a campaign that emphasized his status as a family man. Greitens and his wife have two children.

Greitens has received mixed reviews in the media as governor. While campaigning on a platform of cleaning up government, he admitted to the Missouri Ethics Commission that he had violated campaign finance law, according to the Kansas City Star. He was fined $1,000. He and his senior staff have also come under fire for using an app that deletes text messages after they've been read, raising concerns about trying to subvert Missouri open records law.

The governor had just delivered his state-of-the-state address Wednesday when KMOV broke the story about his affair. Greitens released his statement in response to the story.

A separate statement by the couple's attorney, James F. Bennett, denied the more bizarre claims first reported by KMOV in St. Louis. The station aired a recording purportedly made surreptitiously by the woman's ex-husband in which she alleged that Greitens invited her to his home in 2015. There, she allegedly said on the recording, she allowed him to tape her hands to exercise rings, blindfold her and then snapped photographs of her naked, threatening to distribute the pictures if she revealed the relationship. The station aired portions of the recording.

All this came tumbling out on what was supposed to be a banner evening for Greitens.

"There was no 'blackmail,'" lawyer Bennett said in a written statement, "and that claim is false . . . The outrageous claims of improper contact regarding these almost three-year-ago events are a lie."

The story originated with the spurned ex-husband, who told KMOV that the relationship between Greitens and the man's then-wife led to the breakup of their marriage.

Afterward, the ex-husband went on social media calling Greitens a "homewrecker," according to KMOV. He then tried to go public with his story and with the recording.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Kansas City Star reported that they, too, had possession of a transcript of the surreptitious recording and had interviewed the ex-husband. Both papers said they had decided against writing a story because the woman declined to be interviewed. Once the governor released a public statement the papers pushed ahead with their stories.

KMOV decided otherwise. Although it said it had no "on-the-record-comment" from the woman, it went with the story Wednesday night under the headline "Blackmail alleged as Governor Greitens admits to extramarital affair" and took credit for prompting Greitens' statement.

"I am not after anything," the ex-husband, who was also unnamed, told KMOV. "I am not a part of politics. I am not a part of anything. I just want to move on with my life."

He claimed to have been contacted by law enforcement authorities and members of the media.

Bennett, Greitens' lawyer, said in his statement that there was nothing about the relationship that "has generated or should generate law enforcement interest."

Comments posted on Greitens' Facebook page reflected a mixed reaction.

"This was March of 2015," wrote one woman, "most likely when your wife was pregnant or had a new baby. There are transcripts. What is so fraudulent is that Eric Greitens ran as a 'family man.'

"There are many in Missouri who stand behind you as governor," wrote another, "and support your family . . . Lead on and God Bless!"

Here is the full statement, as posted on Facebook, by Greitens, his wife and the couple's lawyer:

"I wanted to share with you some statements that are important in light of news you may have seen tonight.

"A statement from James F. Bennett, our attorney:

" 'The Governor has now seen the TV report that ran tonight. The station declined to provide the tape or transcript in advance of running their story, which contained multiple false allegations. The claim that this nearly three-year old story has generated or should generate law enforcement interest is completely false. There was no 'blackmail,' and that claim is false. This personal matter has been addressed by the Governor and Mrs. Greitens privately years ago when it happened. The outrageous claims of improper conduct regarding these almost three-year-ago events are a lie.'

"Joint statement from Sheena and I:

" 'A few years ago, before Eric was elected governor, there was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage. This was a deeply personal mistake. Eric took responsibility, and we dealt with this together honestly and privately. While we never would have wished for this pain in our marriage, or the pain that this has caused others, with God's mercy Sheena has forgiven and we have emerged stronger. We understand that there will be some people who cannot forgive - but for those who can find it in your heart, Eric asks for your forgiveness, and we are grateful for your love, your compassion, and your prayers.'

"An additional statement from Sheena:

" 'We have a loving marriage and an awesome family; anything beyond that is between us and God. I want the media and those who wish to peddle gossip to stay away from me and my children.' "

Author Information: Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.

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