WaPo: About that "cooperating witness" in the Gaetz probe ...

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Is this just another “repackaged … anonymously sourced stories” that the media has been running about Matt Gaetz, as his spokesman commented when contacted by the Washington Post? Not quite, although it certainly does recycle those stories and sells the article as an explainer on “How the Justice Department Came to Investigate Rep. Matt Gaetz.” A more accurate description might be how the DoJ and the media might be being duped by a con man looking to find any way out of a federal sex-trafficking indictment.

Reporters Matt Zapotosky and Michael Shearer didn’t write the headline, but they do remind readers that Joel Greenberg is the man at the center of the action against Gaetz. And they tell why that might make it very difficult indeed for prosecutors to make any kind of case:

The missive arrived at an Orlando-area preparatory school in October 2019, outlining a damaging allegation against a music teacher there.

The teacher, in the letter’s telling, had had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the purported student who had written it. And the writer claimed to offer proof: private Facebook messages in which the teacher, Brian Beute, told his alleged victim: “Please remember to keep this a secret. I could go to jail.”

Beute, who had recently announced his candidacy in the local tax collector’s race, knew the allegation was a lie, as investigators quickly determined. But what he could not foresee is how the ploy to sabotage his run for local office would drag the seedy politics in Seminole County, Fla., into the national spotlight and put a U.S. congressman with close ties to former president Donald Trump in the crosshairs of a Justice Department investigation.

The allegations against Beute, federal investigators concluded, had been fabricated by his incumbent opponent, Joel Greenberg, in a bid to smear him. But when authorities arrested Greenberg and sifted through his electronic records and devices — according to documents and people involved in the case — they discovered a medley of other alleged wrongdoing, leading them to open an investigation of possible sex trafficking involving a far more high-profile Florida Republican: Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Let’s recall exactly what crimes the DoJ has charged against Greenberg. His 33-count federal indictment not only includes sex trafficking but also “aggravated identity theft, wire fraud and bribery.” The catalyst for Greenberg’s indictment was an attempt to frame a political rival for a sex crime. The two Washington Post reporters offer a fairly skeptical look at using Greenberg as a witness in light of these charges:

Greenberg, according to a person familiar with the matter, has been providing investigators information about Gaetz since last year in a bid for leniency — a potentially ominous sign for the congressman, though any account Greenberg offers will face significant questions because of the crimes of which he is accused. They include fraud and fabricating evidence against a political rival.

Well … yeah. Greenberg fabricated evidence and committed fraud to frame his election opponent just to keep a tax-collector position in Seminole County. Imagine what Greenberg might do to keep from going to federal prison — or at least get to serve his time at a Club Fed facility. A defense attorney would have a field day walking Greenberg through all of these actions on cross-examination in front of a jury and humiliating any prosecutor who tried to use Greenberg as their key witness in any case under a plea deal.

That’s not to say that Gaetz is innocent either. We don’t actually know what the DoJ has, at least not yet, other than Greenberg and apparently the documents he supplied. If that’s all they have, the DoJ is going to have a tough time building much of a realistic case against anyone, Gaetz included, but we don’t know that’s all they have.

What we do know, however, is that’s all the media has. News outlets have been repackaging the same anonymous sources and stories, all of which appear to be related to Greenberg and whatever materials he had in his possession. The Post’s reporters do a pretty good job in this case of putting that into perspective, even if their headline doesn’t. If and when more evidence emerges, then perhaps we can assume more about Gaetz’ role — but perhaps we can leave his high-school classmates alone in the meantime, and quit pretending that repackaging the same threads makes for new insight rather than just click-baity dogpiling.