Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri announced his resignation at the state Capitol, in Jefferson City, Mo., on Tuesday.
Eric Greitens was a decorated Navy SEAL unit who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, the founder of a veterans’ charity in Missouri and a Rhodes scholar. Chiseled and charismatic, he was elected governor of Missouri and seen by his fellow Republicans as a potential superstar in the party, someone with the brains and political instincts to perhaps rise all the way to the White House.
But on Tuesday, Mr. Greitens abruptly resigned, more than four months into a scandal involving a sexual relationship with his former hairdresser and claims that he had taken an explicit photograph of her without her permission. He was also accused by prosecutors of misusing his charity’s donor list for political purposes.
Defiant but somber, Mr. Greitens, who was voted into office in 2016, insisted that he had committed no crimes or “any offense worthy of this treatment.” He described “legal harassment of colleagues, friends and campaign workers” and said “it’s clear that for the forces that oppose us that there is no end in sight.”
“This ordeal has been designed to cause an incredible amount of strain on my family,” Mr. Greitens said. He added: “I cannot allow those forces to continue to cause pain and difficulty to the people that I love.”
It was both a shocking end to his governorship and a kind of catharsis for the Missouri Republican Party after a grinding spring of allegations, criminal charges, angry denials and court proceedings involving Mr. Greitens.
The scandal had spread far beyond the governor, threatening to sink the chances of another prominent Missouri Republican, Josh Hawley, the attorney general, who is expected to face a tight Senate race against Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat. (On Tuesday, Mr. Hawley applauded Mr. Greitens for doing “the right thing today.”)
For months, the governor had defiantly refused to resign, even as a Republican-dominated legislative committee investigated him, read aloud for the record a lurid and lengthy account of his behavior and warned that impeachment was possible.
For Republicans, the prospect of an end to all of it brought a measure of relief.
“There’s not going to be this constant battle going on, this dragging people through the mud,” said State Representative Kathie Conway, a Republican who for months had suggested that Mr. Greitens resign. “But I think that there’s still so much healing to do.”
Mr. Greitens’s resignation will take effect on Friday. Lt. Gov. Michael L. Parson, a Republican from rural southwestern Missouri, who previously served as a sheriff and state senator and is seen as having longstanding alliances with state lawmakers, will take over for the rest of Mr. Greitens’s term, which ends in January 2021.
Missouri will remain firmly in the hands of Republicans, who control both the governor’s office and the legislature. Rarely has a lieutenant governor in Missouri taken over in this way, midway through a term; in 2000, Mel Carnahan, then the governor, was killed in a plane crash and Roger Wilson, the lieutenant governor, took his place.
Mr. Greitens’s public problems began in January with his admission of an extramarital affair. He and his wife, Sheena, described the situation as a “deeply personal mistake” in a joint statement, adding: “Eric took responsibility, and we dealt with this together honestly and privately.” But in the months that followed, the scandal only grew, even as Mr. Greitens tried to move past it, making statements on tax cuts and funds to produce biodiesel.
The governor’s former hairdresser described an alarming sexual encounter, in which she said that he had taken a photo and threatened to share it if she told anyone about them. All the while, questions began to emerge about whether he had used the veterans’ charity list to help his political campaign in 2016.
Mr. Greitens’s resignation ends the need for an impeachment process. But it is unclear whether his criminal problems are over. The prosecutor in Jackson County, which includes much of Kansas City, is still investigating him and could refile an invasion-of-privacy charge that was dropped earlier this month, stemming from the hairdresser’s accusation that Mr. Greitens had taken an explicit photo.
In addition, the governor faces one felony charge: tampering with computer data, in connection to misuse of the donor list. A lawyer for Mr. Greitens has called the charge “absurd.”
Shortly after he announced his resignation, Kimberly Gardner, the St. Louis prosecutor, said in a statement that she had “reached a fair and just resolution” of the computer tampering charge, and that details would be announced Wednesday.
Mr. Greitens offered few details about his decision to resign, and Missouri politicians speculated about reasons he might have quit now — after months of fighting back. Earlier on Tuesday, a judge had ordered the governor’s campaign fund and a political action group tied to Mr. Greitens to turn over documents to lawmakers considering impeachment, a decision seen as a major blow to the governor.
For Mr. Greitens, 44, it was a fall as dramatic and sudden as his rise had been.
He burst onto the political scene only a few years ago, shedding his former identity as a Democrat in a widely shared essay on FoxNews.com in July 2015, in which he called liberals “world-class hypocrites.” “They talk a great game about helping the most vulnerable, with ideas that feel good and fashionable,” he wrote. “The problem is their ideas don’t work, and often hurt the exact people they claim to help.”
Married and a father of two, Mr. Greitens swept into the governor’s office in 2017, which was previously held by a two-term Democrat, Jay Nixon. But he made few friends even among his fellow Republicans in Jefferson City, the capital, frequently clashing with lawmakers and members of the local press corps.
Then, in January, just hours after the governor’s state of the state address, KMOV, a St. Louis television station, aired a recording of Mr. Greitens’s former hairdresser, speaking about Mr. Greitens with her husband at the time.
The woman, who apparently did not know she was being recorded, told her then-husband that Mr. Greitens had threatened to release a compromising photograph of her if she told anyone about their relationship.
After the affair became public, Mr. Greitens asked Missourians for forgiveness and said he had worked through the issue with his wife. But he has insisted that he committed no crime.
An explosive report from the House legislative committee, released in April, told a different story. According to the account the woman gave legislators, she went to Mr. Greitens’s home on his invitation one morning, where he suggested that they work out together; then he blindfolded her, taped her hands to pull-up rings and began kissing her.
He then tore off her shirt, pulled down her pants and took a picture of her with his cellphone, she said. Shortly after, he coerced her into performing oral sex, she said in the report.
They had subsequent sexual encounters over a period of months in 2015, she said.
Lawmakers from both parties said they were surprised to see Mr. Greitens quit after fighting for months to stay in office.
“I thought he would fight it all the way to the end,” said Ms. Conway, the Republican. “I was fully prepared to have to go in and vote yes or no on impeachment.”
State Representative Clem Smith, a Democrat from the St. Louis suburb of Velda Village Hills, said he had also thought Mr. Greitens was going to stay in office and try to keep his job.
“I don’t think it was the most genius thing to do,” Mr. Smith said of the governor’s decision to hang on for so long. “But they say he’s an ambitious person, an outsider who came in taking pages from President Trump’s playbook.”
Even with the governor’s departure, the scandal could still help Democrats in November, Mr. Smith said. Uncertain for now, he said, is how much.