As one would expect, the media is agog over Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s tweet last night and his status as the first Republican to demand that Rep. Matt Gaetz leave Congress. There’s some backstory here, of course, as Gaetz and Kinzinger come from diametrically opposed wings of the GOP and their House caucus, to which we’ll return in a moment. But Kinzinger has a specific catalyst for his demand, supplied by a Daily Beast exposé that raises more questions about Gaetz and his friend Joel Greenberg:
— Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) April 9, 2021
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.” …
Greenberg—the former Seminole County tax collector—has now been federally indicted on 33 counts, including sex trafficking crimes involving a 17-year-old. Court documents say Greenberg was “engaged in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships.” And The New York Times says a Justice Department investigation is looking into Gaetz’s involvement in the cash-for-sex ring.
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. And on Thursday, Greenberg’s attorney and prosecutors indicated during a court hearing that they expect Greenberg to strike a plea deal, likely meaning he plans to cooperate with investigators.
This is what’s known as “following the money.” In this case, it’s also following a paper trail which, if on the level, demonstrates incredible stupidity on the part of both men. If true, the two must have thought they’d be above investigation, a kind of impunity that unfortunately is none too rare around Capitol Hill. However, it might explain why Gaetz reportedly began asking White House staff about a “blanket pardon” late last year, and why he might have been interested in shifting to a media career rather than sticking around in Congress.
Consider a couple of other points, however. First, these records have not yet been validated or presented in court, so it’s still a good idea to keep an open mind. The feds have an indictment filed on Greenberg, but haven’t done anything on Gaetz — yet. An investigation doesn’t necessarily confer guilt, and neither does an indictment of one’s friends.
Second, the primary criminal allegation reported by the NYT and other media involved underage girls being trafficked. If this recipient was 18 at the time, then at worst it looks like a prostitution case. That is, of course, bad enough for a member of Congress, but it’s not quite what the narrative has been thus far. It would almost certainly prompt a House Ethics Committee investigation and might result in expulsion if this evidence is validated, even if it doesn’t involve underage girls. Democrats would be happy to toss Gaetz out, and Gaetz has made enough enemies in his own caucus that Nancy Pelosi might even get the two-thirds vote necessary to successfully expel him.
That brings us back to Kinzinger. Politico headlined his status as the first Republican to demand Gaetz’s resignation, but also provided the context for it:
Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran and one of former President Donald Trump’s fiercest critics within the party, has previously targeted Gaetz, along with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), with the creation of a political action committee that aimed to help fund Republican candidates who have separated themselves from Trumpism.
During an interview in February, Kinzinger accused the pair of spouting false rhetoric for fame.
“All you have to do is see people like, of course, Marjorie Taylor Greene. You look at people like Matt Gaetz, who know better. I think neither of them believes the stuff they ascribe to, they just want fame,” Kinzinger said. “And so then you have to look at all that stuff and say, ‘OK, can they be defeated? Who are opponents that can actually run against them?'”
Gaetz later shot back, telling the congressman to “bring it.”
“Adam needs PACs to win elections. I don’t,” Gaetz declared. Gaetz has previously rejected accepting campaign contributions from PACS.
Kinzinger has other reasons to see Gaetz leave politics, in other words. That doesn’t mean that he’s not being sincere about this reason, but there’re more to it than the idea that Gaetz is suddenly losing the confidence of his own caucus. However, it does leave Gaetz in a precarious position, especially after going out of his way to attack Liz Cheney in her home state earlier this year. That created a lot of hostility toward Gaetz among House Republicans, and some of them might be champing at the bit for payback. And Gaetz can’t complain that he didn’t earn it, either.