There are a lot of things that seem inevitable about the Matt Gaetz sex scandal, such as Gaetz fundraising off it and such as headlines like The Gaetz Show gets weirder and What Kind of Monster Is Matt Gaetz?... and don't forget Matt Gaetz Is Well And Truly Fucked-- Gaetz May Officially Be The Dumbest Congressman Alive by Bess Levin in Vanity Fair.
Marc Caputo reported that on Friday night, Gaetz at a Trump golf club in Miami to address Women for America First. "Basically, Gaetz did exactly what defense lawyers and establishment types in politics and media say an embattled pol shouldn't do: He ran his mouth, and acerbically so. Gaetz swiped at the 'lying media.' He decried the 'smears' against him and the 'distortions of my personal life … [and] wild conspiracy theories.' He pledged he 'won’t be extorted by a former DOJ official and the crooks he is working with.' The alleged extortion plot is one of those odd twists that prove how Florida is stranger than fiction. But that's Gaetz. He isn’t an establishment type. He’s a MAGA media figure. He’s always starring in The Gaetz Show, perhaps a vestige of having grown up in the house where and while “The Truman Show” was filmed (remember: Florida is stranger than fiction).
Gaetz, 38, grew into his role as a TV figure shortly after arriving in Washington in 2017. In the seniority-based gerontocracy that is Congress, he realized that the path to political power and influence was to have Trump's ear-- and the way to do that was by auditioning as Trump’s top defender on Fox News. It worked. Trump loved it and promoted him. Gaetz got a podcast (Hot Takes with Matt Gaetz). He penned a book (Firebrand: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the MAGA Revolution). He starred in an HBO documentary (The Swamp).
In his newfound celebrity, Gaetz [dropped nearly 100 pounds and] styled himself into a ladies' man, showing up to high-profile events with a number of different beautiful women. At a 2018 Republican Party of Florida Lincoln Day dinner in Orlando, he caused a stir by appearing with two dates, one of whom is a model for Monster Energy Drink and had competed decades ago in child beauty pageants against JonBenét Ramsey (remember: Florida is stranger than fiction).
Gaetz's predilections brought him into the orbit of Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, who now sits in federal jail and awaits trial on a 33-count indictment. He appears ready to cut a deal with prosecutors. They want Gaetz.
One of the charges Greenberg faces concerns sex with a 17-year old girl, with whom Gaetz is suspected of also having sex. Two Politico sources say Gaetz had personally told them he had sexual relations with her, but only after she turned 18 in November 2017. About six months after the woman turned 18, the Daily Beast first reported, Gaetz used Venmo to send money to Greenberg, and mentioned the woman’s name in the payment’s memo. Politico first reported this week that the woman, who did not return messages for comment, went on to work in pornography, and that Greenberg had boasted about that fact to friends. We’ve also learned that she was on a Bahamas trip, first reported by CBS, that federal prosecutors are examining as part of their investigation.
The story is developing and grows more lurid and strange by the day. It's unlikely Gaetz will get quiet. He’s not only speaking out, he’s fundraising off of the investigation. The cash is rolling in. He needs it to pay his new lawyers. Though a lawyer himself, Gaetz believes that letting attorneys speak for you-- especially if you’re innocent-- often makes you look more guilty. Advice rendered in a court of law is sometimes horrible in the court of public opinion. And he’s the star of The Gaetz Show, not them. It’s what keeps everyone tuned in-- that, and the fact that Florida is stranger than fiction.
There's also a less lurid and more serious aspect, something Rachel Maddow covered on her show last night: partisan political corruption.
Another piece in Politico-- this one by Kyle Cheney and Nick Wu-- Remingtons did readers that Gaetz is back under investigation by his pals at the Ethics Committee, who first got to know him when, the night before Michael Cohen was due to testify at the House Oversight Committee about Trump financial misdeeds, Gaetz publicly threatened him on Twitter: "Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful to you in prison. She’s about to learn a lot." Gaetz refused to cooperate, claiming to be "too busy."
As for Levin, this morning, she decided that Vanity Fair readers needed to be reminded how stupid Gaetz is, competing for the lowest IQ member with characters like Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tommy Tuberville... she forgot Mad Cawthorne and Lauren Boebert. She wrote that "On Thursday, though, a strong case was made for crowning Rep. Matt Gaetz the king of congressional morons, thanks to his decision to be as blatant as possible about allegedly paying women for sex."
In two late-night Venmo transactions in May 2018, Rep. Matt Gaetz sent his friend, the accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, $900. The next morning, over the course of eight minutes, Greenberg used the same app to send three young women varying sums of money. In total, the transactions amounted to $900. The memo field for the first of Gaetz’s transactions to Greenberg was titled “Test.” In the second, the Florida GOP congressman wrote “hit up ___.” But instead of a blank, Gaetz wrote a nickname for one of the recipients. (The Daily Beast is not sharing that nickname because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.) When Greenberg then made his Venmo payments to these three young women, he described the money as being for “Tuition,” “School,” and “School.”
Gaetz and Greenberg are both connected through Venmo to this then 18-year-old woman-- who now works in the porn industry, according to a friend of the girl’s.... Greenberg and Gaetz are also connected on Venmo to at least one other woman whom Greenberg paid with taxpayer funds using a government-issued credit card. Seminole County auditors flagged hundreds of those payments as “questioned or unaccounted for,” and in total found more than $300,000 in suspicious or unjustified expenses.... Gaetz and Greenberg share Venmo connections with at least two women who received payments from Greenberg, and both have professional relationships with each other.
She wrote that Gaetz and Greenberg "are close friends-- Greenberg has been described as Gaetz’s 'wingman'-- also allegedly slept with some of the same women they’re accused of paying for sex. And in no-good-very-bad news for Gaetz, on Thursday, a court hearing indicated that his good pal Greenberg will likely be cooperating with the feds, a turn of events the former tax collector’s lawyer suggested was not a positive development for the Florida representative. 'I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,' Greenberg’s attorney told reporters. (Greenberg previously denied the charges against him but is expected to plead guilty as part of a cooperation deal with prosecutors.)"
And that brings us to the New Republic What Kind of A Monster piece by Melissa Grant. "Florida Republican Matt Gaetz may be the first member of Congress under investigation for sex trafficking, and whether or not he is indicted, 'investigated for sex trafficking' has now affixed itself to his name, perhaps permanently. Whatever kind of monster it is people picture when they hear 'sex trafficker,' his opponents hope it is enough to sink his political career. Still, what we already know to be true about Gaetz-- that he pushed the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, that he has employed staff who took policy cues from a conspiracy theory-- laden message board and who cheered on the January 6 insurrection-- is plenty contemptible and corrosive. Matt Gaetz has quite publicly demonstrated a willingness to abuse power. There is enough here, too, without having to fall back on pernicious myths about sex trafficking in order to portray Gaetz as the kind of ready-made villain that may be, unfortunately, easier to run out of office."
It won't be easy to run Gaetz out of office. Even if he's the dumbest member of Congress-- Levin's theory-- he's a lot smarter than the voters in FL-01, which abuts Alabama, and which gave Trump 67.5% of its vote in 2016 and then 65.9% last year. There are 5 mask-free counties in Gaetz's district, by order of population (along with the county's COVID-cases and Trump's 2020 county-wide win number):
Escambia- 35,152 (56.7% Trump)
Okaloosa- 19,942 (68.6% Trump)
Santa Rosa- 17,890 (72.4% Trump)
Walton- 7,500 (75.4% Trump)
Holmes- 2,220 (89.1% Trump)
Point being, the voters who live in FL-01 are not wealthy but they are rich in the stupidity it takes to identify with the sons of wealthy crooks and elect them to led them. Gaetz is probably more popular in his district now than he was before the scandal broke. "Gaetz," concluded Grant, "apparently regards women he (says he) has sex with as trophies to whom he may have the absolute right. After he fought a revenge-porn law while in the Florida state legislature, a fellow Republican lawmaker told the Orlando Sentinel, 'Matt was absolutely against it. He thought the picture was his to do with what he wanted.… He thought that any picture was his to use as he wanted to, as an expression of his rights.' (It passed anyway.) At parties with Joel Greenberg, according to two people who spoke to The Washington Post, Gaetz would show off videos of naked or topless women on his phone to others involved in Florida politics. 'Matt was never shy about talking about his relationship to Joel and the access to women that Joel provided him,' one of those people told the Post. For Gaetz, access to sex and access to power seem instrumental and interchangeable-- not a crime, but still nothing worth defending. Members of Congress shouldn’t have to tolerate a co-worker who flashes nudes for cred on the House floor, as Gaetz has reportedly done since arriving in Washington. 'His unsolicited thirst is extremely weird,' wrote Miami New Times columnist Jerry Iannelli, after Gaetz told TMZ he would 'swipe right' on the chance to work on a bill with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in 2019. At the time, he appeared to be trying to appropriate AOC’s social media prowess; now, it just seems like another bit of evidence demonstrating his outsize notion of both his seductive power and his proximity to influence. Was he banking, too, that this would protect him from allegations like this? Because he may not be wrong that he can hold onto his seat regardless."
And since he has long been bisexual (or polymorphous-perverted), the latest scandal "protects" him from these old charges as well. In any case, I can't wait to see Gaetz's small dollar contribution haul from MAGA-world next quarter. Those easily titillated and even more easily enraged folks just love a good scandal to identify with.