MO House Speaker apologizes for trading suggestive messages with - KCTV5 News

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MO House Speaker apologizes for trading suggestive messages with intern

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, KS (KCTV/AP) -

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl is apologizing for a series of apparent electronic messages between him and a college student serving as a Capitol intern that suggest a sexually charged relationship.

Diehl, a Republican, a husband and a father of three from St. Louis, is taking full responsibility for the embarrassing text conversation made public. He issued a statement after the Kansas City Star releases screenshots of the apparent messages that show several flirtatious discussions, some of which were sexually suggestive.

“I take full responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry to those I let down. I apologize for the poor judgement I displayed that put me and those closest to me in this situation. I also regret that the woman has been dragged into this situation. The buck stops here. I ask for forgiveness. I will begin immediately working to restore the trust of those closest to me, and getting back to the important work that is required in the final days of session.

The Star said the screenshots show Diehl's business cellphone number and that it obtained the messages after the internship program for Missouri Southern State University was abruptly shut down earlier this spring.

The texts show Diehl saying to the college intern: “God I want you right now.” To which she replied, “I wish you could have me right now.”

In later texts she tells Diehl, “That sounds amazing.” He texts back, “Will have my way with you.”

In another exchange, Diehl writes, "Laying in bed looking at your pic :)" to which the intern responded, "Mmm why can't I be there."

"The Speaker of the House is probably the most powerful role in state legislature and that's true for the U.S. Congress as well," said Elizabeth Vonnahme, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Vonnahme teaches political scandal in the poli-sci department at UMKC. She said Diehl now faces an uphill battle to keep his powerful position this term or any other down the line.

She said this is more than a sex scandal plaguing the Republican Party.

"There's also an abuse of power situation in the sense that this is a young intern working for a member of the state legislature and it's similar to an employment situation where there is a power disparity there and he's in essence her boss," Vonnahme said. "Many politicians engaged in similar scandals, particularly with interns, have resigned. That is especially true for sexual scandals. They tend to lead to early resignation. They lead to election losses."

Many Missouri voters aren't pleased with Diehl's actions.

"I think it's pretty embarrassing, something you see on TV. I didn't expect it to happen in Missouri. I don't think he should be in office anymore, that's for sure," said Daniel Vernon. 

"I think that he shouldn't be in office," said Norma Welty.

The intern had Diehl listed in her phone as "Frank Underwood," a character on the popular Netflix show House of Cards. In the show Underwood, a politician, has an affair with a younger woman. 

The intern, who is not named in the story, had denied to the newspaper that the messages were authentic. The former intern believed to be the subject of the story declined to comment Wednesday and referred the AP to the same attorney.

Following the Star's report, Democratic state Rep. Gina Mitten announced on the House floor that she was seeking signatures on a petition calling for a vote to remove Diehl as speaker pending a full investigation into allegations of misconduct.

"I do not believe that our present speaker should be at the dais while we have this dark cloud over the Capitol," said Mitten, of the St. Louis suburb of Richmond Heights.

Diehl, 49, is an attorney who lives with his wife and three sons in the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country.

The Star reported that multiple sources, which it did not identify, confirmed that the screenshots of the messages that show Diehl's business cellphone number originated from the intern's smartphone.

A Missouri Southern State University spokesperson said the school immediately pulled its four interns out of the state Capitol this spring after an unspecified incident, which declined to describe more specifically.

"Usually, when something happens, it is a problem with the interns themselves, but that was not the situation this year," said Richard Miller, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Missouri Southern.

The interns lived in Jefferson City and worked 35 hours a week for various lawmakers. They have been reassigned to law offices and political action organizations in the state, Miller said.

The Star reported that it obtained the electronic messages after the internship program ended. The newspaper said Diehl was contacted April 24 about the exchanges and, through a staff member, asked to see the messages before he would comment. The Star reported that it shared the messages with Diehl within minutes of that request, and he declined to comment publicly.

A week later, on May 1, Diehl agreed through his staff to talk on the record with a reporter, The Star reported. But the newspaper said he backed out of that arrangement. The paper said that Diehl's staff offered Friday to deliver records for both his personal cellphone and another cellphone paid for by his law firm, Husch Blackwell. It then took the staff several days to produce those records, which showed just six text messages sent from the intern to Diehl.

The Star said the records show only a log of conventional text messages.

But the newspaper reported that the messages it obtained and presented last month to Diehl show conversations over Apple's iMessage platform. It reported that texts on iMessage wouldn't show up on a cellphone record unless they were sent or received when no Wi-Fi or mobile Internet connection is available.

Copyright 2015 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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