By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Poor Matt Gaetz. The Florida Congressman has provided us with so many entertaining antics. He —invited a Holocaust denier to the 2018 State of the Union address. With the enthusiasm of a Robespierre storming the Bastille, Gaetz led a 2019 Republican charge on the House Intelligence Committee during the first Impeachment investigation. He and his cohorts occupied the committee’s secure chamber and prevented them from interviewing witnesses for five hours. And of course, there was Gaetz, wearing a gas mask on the House floor in March, 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, mocking those who donned cloth masks against Covid.
But just because of one little investigation into whether Gaetz has been involved in sex trafficking, everyone is deserting him.
Last week, his communications director Luke Ball resigned, as did his legislative director Devin Murphy. Friend Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, who has been indicted on numerous charges, including transfer of government funds to himself, making fake IDs and drivers licenses, and sex trafficking, is very likely negotiating a plea bargain in which he may implicate his old buddy, Gaetz. And the House Ethics committee has opened an investigation of Gaetz’s actions.
But the betrayal by Donald Trump must sting the most. After all, it was for Trump’s benefit that Gaetz led the disruption of the House Intelligence Committee’s first impeachment investigation, organized the January 6 last ditch challenge to President Biden’s election victory, and crossed the country to go to Wyoming in order to hold a rally against Republican Representative Liz Cheney. Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, had had the temerity to vote for Trump’s second impeachment based on his incitement of the January 6 insurrection.
But after his perfect show of fealty, poor Gaetz did not even receive personal public support from the former President. Instead, he just got a tepid statement issued by Trump’s office denying that Gaetz ever asked Trump for a pardon, and stating, “It must also be remembered that [Gaetz] has totally denied the accusations against him.”
In relation to sex trafficking, there is a confounding web of allegations involving Gaetz and his indicted friend, Joel Greenberg. It has been alleged that Greenberg met women through websites that connect wealthy men with women who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel, and allowances, and that Greenberg then introduced the women to Gaetz, who also had sex with them. It has further been alleged that one was an underage 17-year old girl.
Legally speaking, treating the payment for hotels and dinners as an exchange of monetary value for sex might be difficult to distinguish from footing the bill on a legitimate date or in a relationship. Cash payments make a clearer case. The New York Times reviewed receipts of payments to the mobile payment apps Cash App and Apple Pay, which Gaetz and Greenberg made to the same woman, as well as a payment Greenberg made to a second woman. According to the Times, the women who received them told their friends the payments were for sex.
In addition, Gaetz and Greenberg are alleged to have arranged meeting times and places, stated the amount of money they were willing to pay, and sometimes paid in cash withdrawn from a hotel ATM. Gaetz supposedly also asked women to find others to have sex with him and his buddies.
But the allegation concerning the 17-year old girl places Gaetz in greatest jeopardy. According to the Times, providing anyone under 18 with anything of value in exchange for sex—including meals, hotels, drugs, alcohol or cigarettes—would constitute federal child sex-trafficking, and carry a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. Thus, it is a central question whether Gaetz had sex with the 17-year old, and whether she received anything of material value, as well as whether he took her over state lines.
It has been reported that the sex trafficking charge already brought against Greenberg involves the same 17-year-old girl, that Greenberg is negotiating a plea bargain, and that information about Gaetz could be his bargaining chip. On April 8, Greenberg’s lawyer was asked whether Greenberg had introduced Gaetz to underage girls for sex. He hemmed and hawed, and finally said, “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today, all right?”
On the political side, adding to Gaetz’s problems, the House Ethics Committee began an investigation on April 9, covering not only his possible sexual misconduct but whether Gaetz “may have engaged in… illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity or impermissible gift in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct.”
Gaetz denies it all and has not been charged with any crimes. But his denials ring increasingly hollow. First, Gaetz denied paying for sex or having sex with a minor, contending that he is just a generous boyfriend, and that his enemies are trying to make it into something discreditable. He asserted, “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Then, playing a Trump-like card, Gaetz tried to deflect public attention from his behavior by counterclaiming there was an attempt to extort $25 million from his father to make his legal jeopardy go away. Gaetz maintains that the extortionists had connections to the Justice Department, and the sex trafficking investigation was a plot by Democrats out to get him.
But the Justice Department’s investigation of Gaetz began under the Trump Administration while Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, was still heading it. Furthermore, the two supposed extortionists—Bob Kent, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, and Stephen Alford, who has twice been convicted of fraud—have no known current connection to the government, let alone the Justice Department. If they were attempting extortion, that fact is irrelevant to the Justice Department’s Gaetz investigation.
Furthermore, although Trump’s office denies he personally spoke with Gaetz, the Times has reported that in the weeks before Trump left office, Gaetz asked the White House for “blanket preemptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed.”
So selfless of Gaetz to include others in the request! Of course, the questions currently being asked are: Did the Congressman know he was under investigation when he asked Trump for the pardons? And did he include others in his request as a smokescreen to hide his own iniquity?
Gaetz’s office went on the offensive, issuing a statement: “Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex. Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life.” One must wonder whether this stilted phrasing was composed before or after Gaetz lost his communications director.
The embattled Representative’s office later issued the following statement, purportedly composed by female staffers: “Congressman Gaetz has always been a principled and morally grounded leader…At no time has any one of us experienced or witnessed anything less than the utmost professionalism and respect. No hint of impropriety. No ounce of untruthfulness.”
But this statement contains no named signatories, and no actual signatures. Those defending Gaetz are identified only by the moniker, “The women of the Office of U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz.” Apparently, Gaetz couldn’t get a single female in his office to put her name on the document. It could have been concocted by anyone in his office. Given the resignation of his communications director, it’s even possible Gaetz wrote and issued it himself.
Matt Gaetz is Nothing Special:
Matt Gaetz is basically a mini-Trump—a misogynist bully who has gotten ahead by having a loud, obnoxious mouth and his own daddy’s questionable financial backing.
According to a 2019 Mother Jones article, Gaetz reputedly showed naked photos and videos of his purported sexual conquests to others on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition, in January 2020, GOP Florida Representative Chris Latvala claimed that, when in the Florida House of Representatives, Gaetz set up a game in which male colleagues got points for sleeping with aides, interns, lobbyists and married legislators. These assertions, if true, do not prove he took an underage girl across state lines for purposes of sex. But they certainly would speak to the nature of the man’s character, his arrogant contempt for women, and his stereotypical frat boy sense of entitlement, as well as betraying an underlying insecurity about his manhood.
If Matt Gaetz is indicted and convicted of the crimes of which he is accused, or even if, at a minimum, the House Ethics Committee’s investigation results in his expulsion from the House, the Congressman will deserve his fate. But even as a nasty piece of work, Gaetz is nothing special—just another sideshow in the open, shameless circus of corruption brought to us by Donald Trump. The would-be Trumps coming up behind Gaetz –narcissists with no moral compass, no sense of honor, and no concern for the truth—are a dime a dozen. And now that the former President has shown them the way, the Trump wannabes will keep coming. We must remain watchful and be ready to hold them accountable.
Jessie Seigel is a fiction writer, an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. She has twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her work. But, Seigel also had a long career as a government attorney, in which she honed her analytic skills. Of this double career, Seigel would say, “I guess my right and left brains are well balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.