It was easy to dismiss the comment as a wayward one. Scheller’s presentation in that and other news conferences has been almost unfailingly nervous and not exactly confidence-inspiring. Maybe he had just stumbled into saying something more suggestive than he meant it to be? Maybe he was asked about Gaetz and just … said some stuff?
Ever since then though, we’ve gotten increasing indications of just how ominous that comment could be for Gaetz — along with how severe the evidence against him could be.
Thursday brought perhaps the most unwelcome development to date for Gaetz: news that Greenberg does appear to have reached a plea deal.
The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky reports:
A Florida politician who is central to the investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz for possible sex trafficking of a minor signaled Thursday that he will plead guilty in his own federal case, a court entry shows, a troubling development for the congressman as it suggests prosecutors have secured a potentially important witness against him.Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for Seminole County, Fla., had since last year been outlining to prosecutors how he and Gaetz (R-Fla.) would pay women for sex using cash or gifts, as he tried to negotiate a plea deal to resolve his own legal woes, according to a person familiar with the matter. Gaetz has adamantly denied paying for sex.On Thursday, a federal court in Orlando scheduled a “change of plea hearing” in Greenberg’s case for Monday, indicating he has reached such a deal.
So much of this case has yet to be chewed over in a court of law. And it’s important to note that whatever Greenberg might say about Gaetz will be subject to questions about Greenberg’s credibility and the evidence presented.
But virtually nothing about the situation looks good for Gaetz right about now.
For one, the allegations against Greenberg are extensive. He’s the subject of a 33-count indictment including alleged sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl. That’s the kind of very serious alleged crime that prosecutors will be less likely to let go in exchange for a little bit of information.
Beyond that, a recent report from the Daily Beast indicated that Greenberg has indeed implicated Gaetz in the sex trafficking of the minor, albeit outside a court of law. The Daily Beast reported that Greenberg, while seeking a pardon from President Donald Trump, drafted a confession letter that laid out what he did and what he said Gaetz had indeed participated in, including when it came to sexual relations with the minor. He not only implicated Gaetz but also said he told Gaetz that she was underage at the time.
Gaetz’s spokesman has denied he engaged in sexual activity with a 17-year old while he was an adult. In responding to the news Thursday, he pointed to Greenberg’s charges including allegedly fabricating accusations against a political opponent.
“The first indictment of Joel Greenberg alleges that he falsely accused another man of sex with a minor for his own gain,” Harlan Hill said. “That man was apparently innocent. So is Congressman Gaetz.”
Exactly why Greenberg would admit to such a thing and implicate Gaetz is a big unanswered question. Even those seeking pardons don’t have to actually admit to crimes; they can simply detail the ones they want to be pardoned for. And the involvement of Trump ally Roger Stone in seeking the pardon looms large.
But the fact that Greenberg would cite Gaetz’s role even long before a potential plea agreement and when he seemingly didn’t really have to doesn’t exactly suggest he’s doing much to hide his friend’s alleged role. (Greenberg did indicate at the time he was rather desperate given the increasing legal cloud hanging over him.)
There’s also the apparent paper trail involved. Again, relying on Greenberg’s say-so is fraught. But reports indicate there are digital money transfers involved — transfers that could build out a case that they were part of a scheme to pay the women.
Perhaps one of the most subtly ominous elements of all of this for Gaetz, though, is how things have snowballed. Charges against Greenberg have built over time as evidence has been uncovered. And such is also the case with allegations against Gaetz.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that the investigation into Gaetz had expanded into whether he might have also sought government jobs for the women involved and whether there might have been some kind of a pay-for-play arrangement involving medical marijuana legislation. (This doesn’t include several other allegations involving Gaetz’s conduct that The Washington Post hasn’t reported.)
The last inauspicious sign for Gaetz right now is his own conduct. When the allegations first broke in the news about a month ago, he claimed there was some kind of effort to extort him and his wealthy family over it. The alleged effort, we have since learned, came after the Trump administration’s Justice Department began investigating.
He also appeared on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show, both during and after which Carlson seemed to be pained to distance himself from Gaetz’s claim that they had shared a dinner involving a particular female friend of Gaetz’s. Carlson, who like Gaetz is a top Trump ally who is prominent in the media, later called it “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
So much of this case remains uncovered, including very notably what Greenberg might say as part of a potential plea deal. But virtually none of it is good for Gaetz, and that hasn’t been the case for a long time.