Missouri House speaker resigns after intern text messages - KCTV5 News

Missouri House speaker resigns after intern text messages

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Missouri House Speaker John Diehl says he is resigning from office after acknowledging that he exchanged sexually charged text messages with a Capitol intern. Missouri House Speaker John Diehl says he is resigning from office after acknowledging that he exchanged sexually charged text messages with a Capitol intern.
An attorney for the intern, Katie Graham, issued a statement Thursday night. An attorney for the intern, Katie Graham, issued a statement Thursday night.
JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KCTV/AP) -

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl said Thursday that he is resigning from the Legislature after acknowledging that he exchanged sexually charged text messages with a college student serving as a Capitol intern.

Diehl said he is stepping down both from his House speaker's position and from his elected job as a Republican representative from suburban St. Louis. He said the resignation will take effect either Thursday or Friday, depending on when an orderly transition can be arranged.

Todd Richardson, 38, from Poplar Bluff was chosen unanimously Thursday night to replace Diehl. Republicans said they ready to put the sordid mess behind them and move on. 

Earlier in the day, Diehl acknowledged "making a serious error in judgment by sending the text messages" to the intern.

"I'm going to do what's best for the (House) body and the (Republican) caucus, and step aside out of my office," Diehl said in an interview with The Associated Press and reporters from three other media outlets.

"I made a mistake," Diehl said. "It's one that calls into question my ability to lead."

His resignation announcement came a day after The Kansas City Star released a story accompanied by screenshots of what the newspaper said were electronic messages between Diehl and the intern, who no longer works at the Capitol. Some of the messages were sexually suggestive.

Initially, Diehl had hoped to weather the storm and say in office. 

Democratic lawmakers had launched an effort to try to remove him from the speakership, and Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had described Diehl's conduct toward the intern as "clearly inappropriate and troubling." Republicans who had supported Diehl quickly determined that it was in the party's best interest for Diehl to step down. 

An attorney for the intern, Katie Graham, issued a statement Thursday night.

"I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me during this difficult time. Your support means a lot. This is extremely difficult for both families, and I hope everyone can begin the healing process," Graham wrote. "I strongly support the Missouri Capitol internship program, and hope it remains a positive experience for other students in the future."

Diehl, 49, is an attorney who lives with his wife and three sons in the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country. He first was elected in 2008 and had been chosen by colleagues as speaker in January to preside over one of the largest Republican legislative majorities in state history. He's known for his ability to work deals and to persuade rank-and-file members to stick together on the party's priorities. Republicans had publicly continued to back Diehl's leadership, and Diehl indicated Wednesday evening that he intended to remain as speaker. On Thursday, Diehl said none of the other 116 Republicans in the House had asked him to resign and he decided to do so after further evaluating the situation.

"I think, too often, we see politicians and people in the public eye, when they do something wrong, say they're sorry but not necessarily be willing to suffer the consequences of that," Diehl said.

He later added: "You can talk the talk or walk the walk. I made a mistake, I don't think it disqualifies me, but I think it certainly violates the high standards that I've set for myself and this body and this office, and I'm embarrassed by it. I'm sorry.

"I'm not going to put my friends in this caucus or my friends and loved ones back home through drama that was created by my mistake," Diehl said.

Some of Diehl's colleagues who had remained publicly loyal said Thursday that they also supported his choice to step down.

"I think he made the right decision," said Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Shell Knob. "It's a disappointing situation but we're going to figure things out."

The college student with whom Diehl had exchanged text messages had been an intern for another House member. She no longer works at the Capitol, and Missouri Southern State University also removed its three other interns from Jefferson City.

Graham's attorney is Phil Willoughby, a former Democratic state House member. She "is not interested in being at the center of any political debate concerning her internship or the workings of the state Capitol," Willoughby said.

In a statement, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, praised Diehl.

"Speaker Diehl was an effective leader with significant accomplishments for our state," Blunt said. "He made a mistake, and has apologized. He made the right decision today. I wish John the best as he and his family work through this."

In a statement, Nixon said Diehl had to step down.

"Missourians deserve elected officials who reflect their values and comport themselves to the highest standards of integrity. Rep. John Diehl's resignation from the position of speaker and state representative is an appropriate and necessary step," Nixon said. "Our thoughts go out to the families who have been affected by the speaker's conduct. I look forward to working with the next speaker to restore the public trust and continue building a brighter future for our state."

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