The pressure increased on Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla, this week as one of his longtime associates agreed, as part of a plea deal for his own charges, to provide “substantial assistance” as a witness for federal investigations.
On Monday, former Seminole County tax collector Jeff Greenberg pleaded guilty to six of the 33 federal charges against him: sex trafficking a minor, creating a fake ID, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official.
The plea deal adds pressure to the scandal facing Gaetz. Gaetz is facing a Justice Department investigation over whether he had sex with a 17-year-old — the same girl Greenberg admitted to trafficking — and paid for sex with adult women.
Gaetz has denied the accusations, calling them lies and saying they are politically motivated.
What happened: Matt Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg admits to paying minor for sex with him and others
Who is Matt Gaetz?
Considered to be a rising star in the Republican Party, Matthew Louis Gaetz II, 39, represents the 1st Florida District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is currently serving his third term. Prior to that that he served in the Florida House of Representatives for the 4th District.
Gaetz was born in Hollywood, Florida, in a political family; his father, Don, served in the Florida state Legislature as Senate president after co-founding the hospice care company VITAS Healthcare. Gaetz grew up near Fort Walton Beach (in a house that was used as Jim Carrey’s in “The Truman Show,” in fact), graduated from Florida State University, and received his law degree from William & Mary Law School. He worked for Keefe, Anchors & Gordon (now AnchorsGordon) in Fort Walton Beach before running for office.
Since entering national politics, Gaetz has been a frequent presence on conservative media, a viral hit across social media platforms, a firebrand against Democrats and one of former president Donald Trump’s most devoted defenders. The profile has made Gaetz a popular conservative figure with the Republican Party’s base of voters.
What is Matt Gaetz under investigation for?
On March 30, the New York Times reported that Gaetz was suspected of having sex with women recruited online by Greenberg for encounters at hotels and other locations that on at least one occasion involved the use of the illegal drug ecstasy.
The Justice Department was also reportedly looking into reports that one of the people paid for sex was an underage girl and that Gaetz paid for her travel.
The Times cited “three people briefed on the matter” who said investigators are examining whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws.
The news breaks: Florida congressman Matt Gaetz reportedly being investigated for sexual contact with teen
More details on the investigation: Federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz is focused on cash payments to women, report says
According to the Times, Greenberg used the website Seeking Arrangement to find the women he and Gaetz allegedly paid for sex. The website, which claims to have more than 10 million active members, bills itself as a place where “Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it.” It defines a “Sugar Daddy” as a successful person who “enjoy attractive company by their side” and for whom money “isn’t an issue.”
A “Sugar Baby” is defined as an “attractive” person “looking for the finer things in life” who appreciates “exotic trips and gifts.”
“Sugar Babies get to experience a luxurious lifestyle, and meet wealthy people on a regular basis,” the site promises.
During the encounters, which occurred in 2019 and 2020, Gaetz is alleged to have taken the drug ecstasy before having sex, the Times reported.
In a statement, Gaetz’s office said the congressman “has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever.”
In the wake of the reports, Gaetz’s communications director Luke Ball resigned from his position “out of principle,” according to a source with direct knowledge who confirmed Ball’s resignation to the Pensacola News Journal.
Is there any proof in the allegations against Matt Gaetz?
The Times said it saw receipts from mobile payment applications Cash App and Apple Pay that showed payments from Gaetz and Greenberg to one of the women. The women told their friends they had received payments for sex with the two men, which were also sometimes paid with cash withdrawn from hotel ATMs, the paper reported.
According to the Times’ sources, Gaetz also asked the women to recruit others for sex with him and his friends, with at least one of the women agreeing to have sex with a third man connected to Florida Republican politics.
In a letter allegedly written to political operative Roger Stone in late 2020 and leaked to The Daily Beast in April, Greenberg claimed Gaetz was also involved with the same minor Greenberg pleaded guilty to sex trafficking. In the letter, Greenberg said both he and Gaetz were unaware the girl 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,” Greenberg wrote in the letter, according to the report. “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.”
Greenberg confesses: Matt Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg admits to sex with minor, paying for himself and others
Implicating Matt Gaetz: Greenberg wrote ‘confession’ letter implicating Matt Gaetz paid for sex with minor
How did the investigation into Matt Gaetz get started?
Greenberg was arrested by federal agents in 2020 in a 14-count indictment alleging he stalked a political rival, used his position to create fake IDs and sex trafficked a minor. According to multiple media reports, that investigation led to Gaetz, who has reportedly referred to Greenberg in the past as his “wingman.”
A person familiar with the matter told USA TODAY that former Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the investigation into Gaetz last year. The source, who was not authorized to comment on a pending investigation, said federal authorities had opened a full investigation at the time.
Has Matt Gaetz been charged with anything?
No charges have been filed to date against Gaetz in this investigation and he has said he is cooperating with authorities.
Has Matt Gaetz responded to the allegations against him?
Quite a lot. Gaetz has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying they are lies, part of a political attack, and an effort to distract from an extortion scheme against his family.
After the news of the investigation broke Gaetz claimed he was the victim of a $25 million “organized criminal extortion” plot and that his father had even worn a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch the people responsible.
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Gaetz claimed the Justice Department investigation was leaked with the intention of undermining the FBI investigation.
In an interview with Axios, when asked what the Justice investigation was about, Gaetz said, “I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated. You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”
His office told the New York Times in April that “Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex” and the congressman “refutes all the disgusting allegations completely.”
“Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life,” the statement said.
Days later, in a column for the Washington Examiner Gaetz said that “first, I have never, ever paid for sex. And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old.” He also said that he was “absolutely not resigning.” There was no mention of the extortion claims in his column.
When news broke about Greenberg’s possible plea deal, Gaetz’s office released a statement from female staffers in the congressman’s defense.
“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,” according to the statement, which was unsigned.
More: Rep. Matt Gaetz’s media blitz publicized a federal investigation. Legal experts say that poses risks
Was Matt Gaetz being extorted?
The extortion claim centered on three individuals, including Pensacola attorney David McGee, a former DOJ prosecutor in the 1980s and 1990s. Gaetz claimed the group said they needed the money to free former FBI agent Robert Levinson from captivity in Iran and that during that investigation, his lawyers were informed about the Justice Department investigation.
The mysterious former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer that Gaetz said was behind the attempt stepped forward after the accusation as Bob Kent, who describes himself as a consultant who does “research work” in the Middle East. Kent told Chris Cuomo on CNN that he was trying to raise $25 million from Gaetz’s father but he wasn’t extorting anybody and that he brought up Gaetz’s legal troubles to show why his project could bring some goodwill from the government.
“There is no threat,” Kent told CNN. “I don’t have anything to do with the (sexual allegations) indictment. I don’t have anything to do with the investigation into Matt Gaetz.”
Matt Gaetz scandal: Former intel officer denies extortion claim but confirms seeking $25M
Didn’t Matt Gaetz say he was leaving Congress?
On the day before the Times reported on the allegations, Gaetz told a town hall meeting crowd in Niceville that he wouldn’t be in Washington much longer. “I’m not going to be a lifer in this job,” he said.
The morning of the Times report Axios reported that Gaetz was considering taking a job in the media industry, possibly at the conservative outlet NewsMax, according to three sources with direct knowledge.
More: Report: Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz considering taking a job at Newsmax
Is Matt Gaetz facing repercussions in the House for these allegations?
The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into these allegations, as well as allegations of illicit drug use, bribery, use of campaign funds for personal expenses and showing pictures and videos of nude women he had relations with to other lawmakers while on the House floor.
More: Matt Gaetz’s associate expected to plead guilty in sex trafficking case: What that means for the congressman
Although at one point GOP House Leader Kevin MacCarthy said Gaetz could lose committee assignments over the allegations, but he also said he had no plans to take action against Gaetz after the congressman told McCarthy he was innocent.
“Matt Gaetz is the same as any American. He’s innocent until proven guilty,” McCarthy said. “There’s no charges against him yet. If a charge comes forward, that would be dealt with at that time.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill) called for Gaetz’s resignation, but GOP lawmakers have remained mostly silent witha few coming to his defense, including Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
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House Ethics investigations: GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz and Tom Reed face House Ethics Committee investigations
More details: Adam Kinzinger becomes first Republican in Congress to call for Matt Gaetz’s resignation amid federal investigation
Did Matt Gaetz ask for a presidential pardon?
According to The New York Times and Fox News, Gaetz sought blanket presidential pardons for himself and others in Congress during the last days of Trump’s presidency, asking Trump’s aides in January for pardons for any crimes he may have committed. It is unclear from the reports who else he may have requested a pardon for, and Trump has denied it.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon. It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him,” Trump said in a statement.
More details: Reports: Rep. Matt Gaetz sought blanket pardons from President Trump
Is Matt Gaetz married? Does he have kids?
Gaetz has been engaged to Ginger Luckey, 26, since December 30. Luckey is a Harvard Business School online student and the sister of Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR.
In June of 2020 Gaetz revealed in a tweet he had a 19-year-old Cuban son, Nestor Galban. In his “Hot Takes” podcast, Gaetz described Galban as the brother of an ex-girlfriend and that he felt like a stepfather, although no formal adoption was mentioned.
What’s next for Matt Gaetz?
Last month it was announced that Gaetz was retaining two prominent New York attorneys, Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner, to lead his legal team.
“Matt has always been a fighter. A fighter for his constituents, a fighter for the country, and a fighter for the Constitution. He’s going to fight back against the unfounded allegations against him,” the statement said, adding that the lawyers “will take the fight to those trying to smear his name with falsehoods.”
Contributors: William Cummings, USAT TODAY; Jim Little, Pensacola News Journal
C. A. Bridges is a Digital Producer for the USA TODAY Network. Follow him on Twitter at @cabridges
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Matt Gaetz’s friend Joel Greenberg’s guilty plea: What it might mean