There is no middle ground with Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL). One either loves his Trumpian style and devotion to the former President or one is counting down the days until a hopeful indictment.
For the unacquainted, The New York Times reported in late March that the Republican Congressman was being investigated by the Justice Department for whether he had a sexual relationship with an underage girl and paid for her to travel with him. Once the story broke, Gaetz publicly claimed on Fox News that he and his family were being extorted by Bob Kent, a former Air Force intelligence analyst. Kent denied that claim on The Michael Smerconish Program, saying that he and his colleagues reached out to Don Gaetz, the congressman’s father, to ask for a $25 million loan to help the former FBI agent Robert Levinson escape captivity in Iran.
“I never threatened the man — matter of fact, it was the opposite: I told him if he decides not to help us, he’ll never hear from me again,” Kent told Smerconish.
Since then, more details have emerged. Gaetz apparently shared nude photos of his partners on the House floor spurring a separate internal investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Later reporting also found that Gaetz sought a blanket pardon from President Trump during the final weeks of his presidency. Today, many are focused now on the talk of a possible sex trafficking indictment following the recent plea of former Florida County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg who was Gaetz’s longtime associate.
Federal cases often begin with prosecutors determining who will cooperate. That cooperation leads to other indictments, and then those that are indicted as a result may be willing to cooperate until the government gets to the “top” of the criminal pyramid and as they say in the local watering holes “get the bad guy.”
Typically, the plea and cooperation of Greenberg means that Gaetz is next, but that is subject to debate. Still, while we await word from the mostly tight-lipped world of federal prosecutors and FBI agents, there are other aspects of this case to watch that haven’t been mentioned.
The Gaetz camp hasn’t attacked Joel Greenberg
Every criminal defense lawyer portrays cooperating witnesses as scumbags just looking for a better deal. Greenberg has pled guilty and agreed to cooperate, but we haven’t heard a word from the Gaetz camp. Greenberg is now officially a criminal, having pled guilty, and his probable testimony against Gaetz is tainted with the (strong) desire for a lower sentence.
So why hasn’t the Gaetz camp beat the drum that Greenberg can’t be believed? Because there’s more.
No one should think that Greenberg’s testimony alone will be sufficient for an indictment or conviction of Gaetz, and Gaetz’s lawyers know that Greenberg didn’t just talk to federal prosecutors. He likely turned over significant corroborating evidence. You can attack someone as a liar until there’s a text message, email, voice mail, or the best – video.
Anytime a federal prosecutor hears about another suspect from a cooperating witness, they ask about corroboration. “Is there anything in writing or audio or video that corroborates what you are saying?” Taking the word of a convicted criminal who is cooperating has its peril, but when even a tainted witness can prove their testimony with corroboration, a reasonable jury will not disregard the evidence.
And in today’s world, nothing occurs without an electronic trail.
Gaetz’s lawyers are likely mindful that what Greenberg turned over is more important than his word. Right now they are silent on Greenberg to portray they are not worried, or that they want everyone to believe that Greenberg is not relevant.
He is, we’re just not sure how, yet.
The case will be a test for Merrick Garland’s Justice Department
If Gaetz is indicted, it will be the first federal elected official charged by the Biden Justice Department, led by of course Democrat Merrick Garland. Remember: Garland was President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee who was publicly blocked in 2016 by Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans.
Biden is President, but to a significant percentage of Republicans, he did not legitimately win the election. That means that his appointed cabinet members – although confirmed by the Senate – are also seen as illegitimate by “The Big Lie” base.
While experienced and likely career federal prosecutors are and will be handling the Gaetz case, the question of the legitimacy of the Justice Department will cause Attorney General Garland to have to make at least one strong statement in the beginning, if not several. No one working on the Gaetz case, should it be brought, will be able to survive a question of partisanship.
Just as Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation was ruthlessly scrutinized by Trump and the GOP, any DOJ employee that comes near this case cannot have their objectivity questioned. No old texts, Facebook posts, conversations overheard at a local diner, nothing. The Gaetz camp will use any minor question of partisanship – relevant or not – to say “I told you so” to their base.
Gaetz Traveling with Marjorie Taylor Greene is Brilliant
Matt Gaetz has a varied base. Some are Trump loyalists who believe Trump won the election, others are just conservative Republicans who supported the party – and therefore Trump – but aren’t into the whole Big Lie conspiracy and may even hope he doesn’t run again.
Greene’s base, obviously smaller, is not varied. They believe Greene, and Greene believes Trump won. Her base is those that appear at the Gaetz-Greene rallies, and those who don’t but who question the election results. These people could see a video evidencing a crime, and if Greene questions it, they question it as well.
Gaetz needs these people should he be charged. He needs people that will not believe anything other than what Greene tells them. If Gaetz can fire up people to believe the entire Justice Department is rigged against conservatives – and him specifically – he is that much closer to convincing a couple of people on a grand jury. If there’s an indictment and trial, a unanimous verdict is required so one hold-out prevents a conviction.
Red Florida is Gaetz Country
Matt Gaetz’s father Don is a legendary figure in the Florida Panhandle. He is a wildly successful businessman, a former State Senator, and a loyal father to his son. While even Matt would likely agree that he is where he is significantly due to his name, he’s built his own brand and following. His fierce loyalty to Trump in a blood-red part of Florida has spurred rumors of a Presidential run.
And trying this case to a jury in North Florida, even outside the Panhandle in the Middle District – encompassing deep red areas outside of Tampa and Orlando – won’t be easy for the government. There are those whose love for the Gaetz family, and Matt Gaetz’s loyal support of Trump, and are not going to take a back seat to criminal allegations from a Biden Justice Department.
Don’t bet on a one-issue indictment
The talk is of a sex-trafficking indictment, but when federal prosecutors sat down with Greenberg – likely for days – they likely asked about so much more. And as I recently discussed, there’s talk of possible obstruction of justice, a widely used tool of federal prosecutors.
When federal prosecutors conduct an investigation, they usually don’t just focus on one issue. Often in a white-collar investigation, the criminal defense lawyer will show up to a meeting with the prosecutor and agents from a series of other federal agencies. There could be FBI Agent(s), but also agents from the IRS (tax fraud), the Postal Inspector (mail fraud), and other federal agencies.
We don’t know if the Gaetz investigation was initiated by sex trafficking allegations, or that came about as they were investigating something else. Don’t be surprised that if Gaetz is indicted, that sex trafficking is either part of a list of other charges or isn’t even included.