Follow the money? The Department of Justice has adopted that strategy in its investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the New York Times reported last night, and it has allegedly led them to cash-app payments to several women, presumably for sexual encounters. Gaetz vehemently denies the accusations and claims it is part of an attempt to extort him, but the NYT claims it has seen the receipts — literally:
Explosive new information in the investigation of Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz.
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) April 2, 2021
A Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments, according to people close to the investigation and text messages and payment receipts reviewed by The New York Times.
Investigators believe Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector in Seminole County, Fla., who was indicted last year on a federal sex trafficking charge and other crimes, initially met the women through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel and allowances, according to three people with knowledge of the encounters. Mr. Greenberg introduced the women to Mr. Gaetz, who also had sex with them, the people said.
One of the women who had sex with both men also agreed to have sex with an unidentified associate of theirs in Florida Republican politics, according to a person familiar with the arrangement. Mr. Greenberg had initially contacted her online and introduced her to Mr. Gaetz, the person said. …
The Times has reviewed receipts from Cash App, a mobile payments app, and Apple Pay that show payments from Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg to one of the women, and a payment from Mr. Greenberg to a second woman. The women told their friends that the payments were for sex with the two men, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
In encounters during 2019 and 2020, Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg instructed the women to meet at certain times and places, often at hotels around Florida, and would tell them the amount of money they were willing to pay, according to the messages and interviews.
Gaetz claims he has never paid a woman for sex, but that’s a statement that might be calculated for a particular purpose. Paying a woman directly for sex is, of course, prostitution — which is illegal in most places outside of Nevada. Facilitating travel across state lines for that purpose is a violation of the Mann Act, which carries significant prison time.
However, giving women “gifts” and providing money for “travel expenses” is legal as long as it’s incidental to any sexual relations. But just how “incidental” is it with Gaetz? In many cases, the “gift” arrangement is a dodge to avoid criminal exposure for either partner in the transaction. It once again reminds us of Gaetz’ odd initial response to the media reports of the scandal:
“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.”
Perhaps that’s all this is. After all, using cash apps to reimburse such expenses creates a paper trail which only an idiot would leave behind if the purpose was unlawful. One has to wonder, though, why it would be necessary to reimburse at all; why not just pay for the travel expenses directly? If Gaetz wanted to provide gifts for his dates, why cash and not, say, jewelry or personal mementoes?
That goes to judgment, and a new report from CNN suggests that Gaetz might not exercise it very often:
Behind the scenes, Gaetz gained a reputation in Congress over his relationships with women and bragging about his sexual escapades to his colleagues, multiple sources told CNN.
Gaetz allegedly showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with, the sources told CNN, including while on the House floor. The sources, including two people directly shown the material, said Gaetz displayed the images of women on his phone and talked about having sex with them. One of the videos showed a naked woman with a hula hoop, according to one source.
“It was a point of pride,” one of the sources said of Gaetz.
We used to have a word for men who behaved this way, assuming these anonymous allegations are true: cad. According to the Daily Beast, this kind of behavior didn’t make him popular amongst his colleagues, not even his similar-minded Republicans:
It was not surprising to some observers that the wagons didn’t circle around Gaetz in the explosive 24 hours after the scandal, even as the congressman produced documents that lent some weight to his extortion claims. “I don’t think a lot of people are going to go out of their way to defend him, especially with this outlandish-sounding defense,” one GOP staffer said. “I don’t think you’ll find a lot of people who are desperate to keep him involved in Republican politics.”
The cartoonishly scandalous perception of Gaetz is so commonplace that sometimes it’s visible, literally, in the halls of Congress. A Hill source sent The Daily Beast a photo of a trash bin outside Gaetz’s office as lawmakers cleared out their offices at the end of a recent session. At the top of the heap was an empty Costco-size box of “Bareskin” Trojan condoms.
We should assume Gaetz to be innocent until proven guilty, but what does it say if the allegations are true? People who risk fortunes and reputations to win seats in Congress are by nature risk-takers. Most of them channel that into positive concerns, but a few will always take it too far. They become convinced of their own invincibility and indulge in progressively riskier and more foolish behavior until they entirely self-destruct. If these allegations are true about Gaetz — which we don’t know yet — the pattern is all too familiar, especially in the Beltway.
This is why character matters in the end. It’s a lesson we keep learning the hard way.