For nearly a week now, the country has been confronted with the sickening prospect of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)’s sex life.
What’s more is that it may be illicit.
Gaetz, who grew up in the house where The Truman Show was filmed and represents the uncanny valley as much as he does Florida’s First Congressional District, has been increasingly ensnared in a scandal that began with the revelation, reported in the New York Times last week, that he faces a federal criminal sex trafficking probe focusing on allegations that he had sex with a 17-year old.
And somehow, it’s gotten more complicated and sordid since then.
The Florida Trump-thumper reportedly bragged about the women he could access thanks to a friend of his — a Seminole county tax collector-slash-buddy-of-Gaetz’s who has himself been charged with sex trafficking.
This all raises a series of questions at once tantalizing, blindingly obvious, and searingly emetic: Was Matt Gaetz getting sexual benefits from a man who is now being prosecuted for sex trafficking? Does that mean the Florida congressman was participating in a sex ring? And, if so, who else might have participated? How deep does this thing go?
Just asking questions here.
After all, sex in politics is nothing new. Think of the litany of members of Congress caught in embarrassing liaisons. But what’s suggested here takes off the relatively dumb plane of normal indiscretions and suggests something that may be darker, yet more intriguing: Gaetz not only benefitting from a sex trafficking scheme, but having a potential role in one that reached further into the world of Florida politics.
So let’s go down the list of where we’re at with Congressman Gaetz and the reported federal criminal probe into allegations that he had sex with a 17-year old.
Joel Greenberg, the Seminole county official currently on his fourth indictment, would allegedly use the various powers of his office to further his pursuit of women.
Some of the allegations suggest that Greenberg took this to a near-industrial scale. For example, prosecutors alleged in the former tax official’s second indictment that Greenberg would take drivers licenses surrendered to his office and use information on them to create fake IDs for himself.
A third indictment heightens the sense that Greenberg had turned the powers of his elected office towards the same activities that ended in him being charged with sex trafficking.
Prosecutors said that Greenberg used state databases to which he had access to monitor women with whom he was a “sugar daddy” — making lavish payments for meals and hotel rooms in exchange for sex. That included, prosecutors alleged, obtaining and disclosing the photo ID and driver ID information for a victim between 14 and 17 years old at the time of the scheme.
Now, as a member of Congress, Gaetz lacked the wide-ranging powers to create fake IDs and spy on people through state databases granted to the Seminole county tax collector.
But one thing that reporting on Gaetz has in common with Greenberg is the suggestion that the congressman used the perks of his office to keep his sex life going. CNN reports that the feds are probing whether Gaetz used his campaign cash to finance his sugar daddy relationships.
CNN, the Daily Beast and the Orlando Sentinel also reported that video exists of the Florida congressman entering the tax office and looking through driver’s licenses with Greenberg. The outlets obtained texts between Greenberg and other tax office staff in which Greenberg explains that he had been showing Gaetz “what our operation looked like.”
But where does that leave us?
It’s not clear. But what it may suggest is that Greenberg’s alleged sex trafficking wasn’t just in service of two overgrown adolescents high on the powers of minor public office, but something much more akin to a sex ring.
And questions remain over who else may have taken part.
The New York Times reported that the FBI is investigating whether other men “are connected” to Gaetz and Greenberg having sex with the 17-year old, and that another Florida politico took part. Gaetz also reportedly would ask the women he had sex with via the arrangement to ask their friends if others would be willing to participate.
JC Planas, a former Republican member of the Florida House who served with Gaetz, told TPM last week that he suspects the scandal goes wider and deeper into Tallahassee than currently known.
“There are a lot of people who are running for cover because there may have been more folks involved with it,” Planas told TPM. “Tallahassee, especially during session, is gossip haven, so never know what’s true or not, but in my experience, 80 percent of the rumors there are true.”