ST. LOUIS — An attorney who works in the office of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens reached out to a suburban St. Louis attorney on a fact-finding mission hours before news of the governor’s extramarital affair broke, according to an audio recording of the conversation.
Attorney Al Watkins provided The Associated Press with audio of the call from Lucinda Luetkemeyer, general counsel in the governor’s office, that Watkins received around 2 p.m. on Jan. 10. Eight hours after the call, KMOV-TV reported that Greitens had an affair with his St. Louis hairdresser in 2015 as the Republican was preparing to run for governor.
Greitens, 43, admitted to the affair in a statement minutes after the TV report aired. Greitens’ private attorney Jim Bennett later denied the woman’s claim to her now ex-husband, recorded without her knowledge during a March 2015 conversation, that Greitens took a nude photo of her and threatened to release it if she acknowledged their relationship.
Watkins, the attorney for the ex-husband, questioned the appropriateness of an attorney on the state payroll calling him about matters Greitens himself has described as private and personal.
“She was clearly calling me trying to facilitate damage control,” Watkins said of Luetkemeyer. “If it’s a private and personal matter, why is your counsel calling?”
Greitens has made no public appearances since news of the affair broke. He canceled a tour this week to promote a tax plan as some within his own party question whether he can continue to lead the state. Republican Rep. Steve Cookson of Poplar Bluff said in a statement that he was appealing to Greitens’ character “and any regard he may have for the good folks of the State of Missouri” in urging him to resign.
Luetkemeyer in an email statement Tuesday defended her call to Watkins. She said that her office had heard Watkins was “shopping around” a story about Greitens but that she didn’t know whether the story involved the governor’s personal life or pertained to his official duties.
Luetkemeyer said she left her office to call Watkins and used her personal cellphone.
“Following the call, I referred the matter to the Governor’s personal counsel, and advised our official press office that further comment related to this issue should be handled by the Governor’s personal counsel,” Luetkemeyer said.
Greitens is paying his own legal fees, Bennett said. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner on Thursday launched a criminal investigation, citing “serious allegations” against Greitens.
Watkins said Luetkemeyer first called from her cellphone to his cellphone. The reception was bad so he asked her to call back to his landline. During the few minutes between calls, he decided to record. Missouri law generally permits audio recordings without the consent of both sides of a conversation.
“I thought, ‘You know what? This is squirrelly,” Watkins said. “I’m recording it.’”
On the recording, Luetkemeyer asks, “Is your client talking to anyone in the media right now?”
Watkins told her he and the ex-husband were not promoting the story but had been contacted by several media outlets, including national news organizations.
“Do you know of an outlet that is going to go live with this soon?” Luetkemeyer asks.
Watkins said he didn’t, but said there was a “fevered pitch out there” among media.
Watkins said his client was contacted by a Democratic Party operative in October 2016, a month before Greitens defeated Democrat Chris Koster in the race for governor. Watkins said he made it known at the time “through a back-channel” to Greitens that the ex-husband had no intentions “to exploit the situation.”
Luetkemeyer earned $116,927 last year. Before joining the administration she worked for the Kansas City-based Graves Garrett law firm, where Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves is a partner.