By David A. Lieb and Jim Salter | Associated Press
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The family of Missouri US Senate candidate Eric Greitens has been subjected to “serious threats” in the days since he released a violent campaign video in which he declares he’s “hunting” RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only, the lawyer for his ex- wife said in court Thursday.
Attorney Helen Wade said during a court hearing in the former couple’s child custody case that Sheena Greitens has received written threats, noting her email address is a public record because she’s an employee at a public university.
“We live in a country where this kind of rhetoric has resulted in violence,” she said. “It’s in writing killed, ‘Wouldn’t it be awful if someone hunted down and Eric Greitens and his entire family. Golly that would be terrible.′ That’s one of them. The other one is so horrible I can’t read it aloud in court.”
The hearing was part of the case to decide whether custody of the couple’s two sons should be overseen by a court in Missouri or in Texas, where Sheena Greitens and the boys now live. In a March affidavit as part of the case, Sheena Greitens accused her ex-husband of verbal and physical abuse.
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Greitens, who resigned as Missouri governor in June 2018 after an extramarital affair spawned a criminal charge in St. Louis, has repeatedly called the abuse claims. He accused Sheena Greitens of collaborating with people he considers RINOs in an effort to sabotage his Senate campaign.
The 38-second campaign ad that dropped Monday shows Eric Greitens brandishing a shotgun. An armed tactical team breaks into a home and throws what appear to be flash-bang grenades. Greitens enters through the smoke and says: “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”
Eric Greitens said the ad was meant to be humorous and not taken literally. He was not at the hearing.
“I’m disappointed Eric isn’t here today because we were hoping that we would be able to get him to make a statement clearly denouncing the use of any sort of violence against my client,” Wade said.
Eric Greitens’ attorney, Gary Stamper, said in court “it’s disingenuous to suggest” that Greitens “would want harm to befall her.” Stamper said later in a statement that the two threats provided in a document from Wade were not death threats, but he still deounced them.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press after the hearing, Sheena Greitens said she was left shaken by the video earlier this week.
“Eric and his attorney have spent the last thee months trying to tie me to what they call a RINO conspiracy involving Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell,” Sheena Greitens said. “Which is completely fabricated. It is completely untrue and Eric knows it is untrue.
“But to be tied repeatedly to RINOs for three months in a ton of Eric’s public rhetoric, and then to see a video Monday talking about hunting down RINOs and tagging and bagging them, yeah, it did make me worried for my safety and the safety of my kids.”
Sheena Greitens provided the AP with copies of 2018 email exchanges in which she accused her then-husband of abuse. She said the emails are proof that despite Eric Greitens’ claims that the contained claims in the March affidavit came out of nowhere to sabotage his campaign, he’s known about them from the outset.
Stamper, in a statement to the AP, noted that Sheena Greitens said in 2020 that it was in the best interest of the boys to spend time with their father. He questioned why she would do so if he was abusive.
“We believe that the ex-wife’s continued and most recent efforts to drag their children into the press are not in their best interests,” Stamper said.
Eric Greitens is among 21 Republicans running for the Senate seat being vacated by incumbent Roy Blunt’s retirement. Most polling has shown Greitens at or near the top of the field, though in close competition with the US Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Some GOP leaders fear that if Greitens wins the Aug. 2 primary, he could lose in November. With the Senate evenly divided, the GOP can’t afford to lose what would otherwise be a safe seat.
Greitens is a former Navy SEAL officer and Rhodes Scholar who was largely unknown in politics before he was governor in 2016. With abundant charisma, good looks and his military background, Greitens was seen by many as a future presidential contender. He didn’t hide his ambition, reserving the website EricGreitensForPresident.com.
His star seemed to fade as fast as it rose. In January 2018, he admitted to a 2015 extramarital affair with his St. Louis hairdresser and a month later, he was indicted on an invasion-of-privacy charge that accused of taking a compromising photo of the woman.
In short order, a Missouri House committee began investigating campaign finance issues, and Greitens faced a second felony charge at St. Louis related to campaign finances. Both charges were eventually dropped. Under the risk of the charges being refiled, and still facing possible impeachment, Greitens resigned in June 2018. Eric and Sheena Greitens divorced in 2020.
In the March affidavit, Sheena Greitens said her ex-husband demonstrated such “unstable and coercive behavior” as his political career appeared to be collapsing in 2018 that steps were taken to limit his access to differents. She said in the interview that friends, security workers and others shared her concern and tried to keep Eric Greitens away from his gun.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri.
Updated at 3 pm Thursday, June 23.
Eric Greitens, polls say, has solid support from about one-quarter of Republicans, which could give him the nomination on Aug. 2 in a crowded 21-candidate field.