Arnie looked better

ERIC GREITENS, who fired a machine gun and posed with an assault rifle in 2016 to advertise his love for gun rights, appears to have dodged a bullet. On May 14th, with jury selection under way, prosecutors in St Louis announced they were dropping an invasion-of-privacy charge against Missouri’s Republican governor. “This is a great victory, and it has been a long time coming,” said Mr Greitens afterwards. Yet his tribulations are only beginning. On May 18th the state House will meet for a special session to ponder the governor’s removal from office.

On January 10th a television station in St Louis broadcast a recording of a phone call between Mr Greitens’s mistress, who was his hairdresser, and her former husband. In the course of it she alleged that the governor blindfolded her half-naked in his basement, then took a photograph that he threatened to make public if she told anyone about him. In February prosecutors charged Mr Greitens with invasion of privacy, related to the photo. (No photo was found, which is partly why the case collapsed.) A special investigative committee of the House, five Republicans and two Democrats, subpoenaed the hairdresser to testify under oath and found her a credible witness. In April it published pages of excruciating details of her encounters with the governor, including allegations of spanking and non-consensual sex. Mr Greitens admits the relationship but denies blackmail and violence.

The governor is also facing a charge of tampering with computer data, which is a felony in Missouri. According to another report by the committee, he allegedly illegally obtained the list of donors of Mission Continues, a charity for veterans he founded, in order to raise money for his campaign in 2016. The report alleges that the governor lied in campaign filings and broke campaign-finance laws. He denies wrongdoing; the case may go to trial.

Mr Greitens has become exceedingly unpopular in the upper echelons of his own party, which has a supermajority in both House and Senate. Lawmakers voted unanimously to set up the investigative committee. Four-fifths of them voted for a special session to consider the governor’s impeachment. Most Republican legislators say they want him gone—and fast. John Hancock, a former state chairman of the party, says he is convinced that Mr Greitens will be impeached but would much prefer him to resign, because of the damage he is doing to Republicans as midterm elections approach.

Only seven American governors have been impeached, none in Missouri. If the House votes to do so (by a simple majority), the Senate will appoint seven judges to hold a trial. Missouri’s constitution says elected officials can be impeached for “crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, wilful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offence involving moral turpitude or oppression in office”. These offences are elastic, points out Frank Bowman of the University of Missouri School of Law. What exactly, for example, is “moral turpitude”?

Yet the salient question is whether the governor can be indicted for his behaviour before he took office, as is the case with the affair and the alleged breaches of campaign-finance laws. “The constitution is ambiguous on that point,” says Michael Wolff, a retired judge of the Missouri Supreme Court. If Mr Greitens were facing federal impeachment, with senators rather than judges in charge of the trial, he would be shown no mercy. The eminent justices may be no softer on him.