The Daily Beast obtained alleged drafts of the confession letter that Joel Greenberg wrote and text messages between him and Stone indicating it was part of a plan to obtain a pardon for Greenberg from President Donald Trump. Greenberg and Stone also reportedly discussed Greenberg paying Stone $250,000, apparently if the pardon effort was successful (which it was not).
The Post has not obtained or verified the materials in the Daily Beast report.
The Daily Beast’s reporting leads to the very logical question: Why on earth would Greenberg write such a letter?
It’s a question that now looms over the whole scandal and suggests there’s plenty more lying beneath the surface.
There is some reason for Greenberg to have specified exactly what he wanted to be pardoned for. There was talk about Trump issuing “blanket pardons” for his allies, absolving them of guilt in broadly specified topic areas rather than for more specific crimes. Gerald Ford issued such a pardon for Richard Nixon, for example, as did George H.W. Bush for figures in the Iran-contra affair. The New York Times has also reported that Gaetz sought a blanket pardon in Trump’s final weeks in office.
But the breadth of those pardons was strongly criticized, and blanket pardons are very rare.
Even if you accept that Greenberg needed to say what he wanted to be pardoned for, though, his purported letter went beyond that in two key ways: First, it actually confessed, and second, it implicated Gaetz.
“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,” Greenberg reportedly wrote of the girl who was 17 at the time. “From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18. I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman.”
In other words, it repeatedly pointed a finger at Gaetz.
The alleged letter specifies that Greenberg and Gaetz thought the girl was 19 years old at the time, but that Greenberg soon received a tip that she was, in fact, underage. He is purported to have informed Gaetz, and they cut off contact until she became 18.
It is illegal in Florida for someone over age 23 to have sexual relations with a 17-year old. Both Greenberg and Gaetz were older than that. Gaetz has denied sexual relations with a 17-year old, but in the alleged letter Greenberg indicates the congressman was made aware of the girl’s age.
The simplest explanation for Greenberg writing a confession letter is that we’re not dealing with the smoothest operators in the world. We already knew for example that he and Gaetz used Venmo to send money to the females they were involved with. That situation conjures memories of former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer (yes, that Jerry Springer) paying a prostitute with a check. Greenberg also has a history of writing, shall we say, ill-advised letters. And perhaps he thought admitting to it while saying they didn’t know the girl was underage might make it seem less bad (though generally speaking, that doesn’t matter from a legal standpoint).
But of the crimes that you probably would want to try very hard to not ever admit to, sex with an underage girl ranks very high. Indeed, that pardons would be sought for such a thing in itself is hard to conceive, even for a president fond of pardoning allies. Admitting to it in the course of seeking that pardon — rather than merely saying it’s what you’re accused of — seems highly unnecessary.
The alleged text messages also make it appear that Greenberg, a now-former local GOP official in Seminole County, was under tremendous pressure at the time, as the case against him was building. He reportedly said he was facing pressure to cut a deal with prosecutors — to “flip” and inform on Gaetz.
(It’s been known that such a thing was on table. When Greenberg’s current lawyer recently addressed an impending deal with prosecutors, he said ominously, “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today, all right?”)
“My lawyers that I fired, know the whole story about MG’s involvement,” Greenberg allegedly texted Stone of a previous legal team. “They know he paid me to pay the girls and that he and I both had sex with the girl who was underage. So naturally they think that is my golden ticket.”
But while using that as potential leverage in court makes sense — and now seems to be very much in-play — what potential reason would there be for implicating Gaetz during an appeal for a pardon?
Perhaps he thought it would make a pardon more likely if Trump knew that a top ally like Gaetz was also vulnerable to the allegations Greenberg was facing.
Perhaps it was because he was upset that Gaetz hadn’t done more to help him, which Greenberg’s texts to Stone suggest he was. (Greenberg said he felt abandoned by his allies and said, “One conversation with POTUS and [Gaetz] can get this done and it all goes away.” Stone at another point allegedly indicated Gaetz refused to help in the pardon effort. “He actually said not to help me?” Greenberg allegedly responded. “Wow.”)
Another possibility which has been floated by some legal experts is that such information could be viewed as valuable to Trump or Stone moving forward, given Gaetz’s high profile and prominence as a supporter. But Gaetz very seldom crossed Trump.
And none of these potential motivations explain why Greenberg would himself admit to such conduct, unless the evidence was truly overwhelming.
Stone’s role in all of this should not be undersold or ignored. This is the guy who has proudly embraced his reputation as a dirty trickster. He was convicted of multiple crimes related to his advocacy for Trump during the 2016 campaign, though Trump later pardoned him.
Paying someone to help you seek a pardon isn’t inherently illegal, but given Stone’s history, it’s difficult to rule out something unsavory. For now, Stone suggests the materials obtained by the Daily Beast might not tell the whole story.
That’s undoubtedly true, but that doesn’t mean the whole story necessarily gets any better — for anyone involved.