KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL whose victory in his first run for public office made him a rising Republican political figure, has acknowledged an extramarital relationship in 2015, but is denying an allegation that he blackmailed the woman.
The 43-year-old Greitens was a one-time prospect to run for Congress as a Democrat but switched to the GOP to run in its 2016 primary to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. He emphasized both his past military service and his outsider status. Greitens won the governor's race with 51 percent of the vote.
During his campaign, Greitens portrayed himself as a family man, saying in his announcement: "I'm a Navy SEAL, native Missourian and most importantly, a proud husband and father." He and his wife, Sheena, married in 2011 and have 3-year-old and 18-month-old sons.
Greitens has long been pegged as highly ambitious. He reserved the web address ericgreitensforpresident.com years ago.
Greitens is a former Rhodes scholar who joined the Navy in 2001 and had tours of duty in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Africa and Iraq.
His last deployment came while he was serving as a White House fellow in President George W. Bush's administration. He once was chlorine-gassed in a suicide bomb attack but returned to duty three days later.
He's been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He later founded and ran a veterans' charity, The Mission Continues, and became a motivational speaker and best-selling author.
Greitens is a marathon winner and a former champion boxer, having taken up the sport at Duke University. His spokesman has said he typically wakes up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to run on local trails or do strength training at the Missouri State Highway Patrol gym.
And he's received plenty of publicity for physical feats, such as rappelling into a rodeo bull-riding event, entering a burning building with firefighters and crawling through the dirt of a SWAT obstacle course. He visited an indoor rock-climbing business and easily climbed two walls while cameras rolled.
The Missouri governor's fiscally conservative, anti-abortion, pro-gun rights politics have played well in conservative Missouri, but his criticism of elected officials as corrupt, career politicians has rubbed many legislators the wrong way.
His administration has also gained a reputation for being less than transparent because of its stiff-arming of reporters and several senior staff members' use of the secretive Confide app.
He signed legislation in July to raise the legal standard for proving discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations, which prompted an advisory against traveling to the state from the Missouri NAACP.
And he maneuvered to appoint new members to the state Board of Education so that it would fire the state's education commissioner.
The governor and first lady issued a statement late Wednesday acknowledging that he had been "unfaithful" in his marriage, but denying allegations that he blackmailed the woman so that she would stay quiet about their affair.
The statement followed a report by St. Louis television station KMOV that Greitens had a sexual relationship with his former hairdresser in 2015. The station's report said the woman's ex-husband alleged Greitens photographed her nude and threatened to release the images if she spoke about their relationship.
Hanna reported from Topeka, Kansas.