NBC: Grand jury hears from former Gaetz girlfriend in sex-trafficking probe

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Is it game on for Matt Gaetz again? The sex trafficking probe that snared one of the Republican congressman’s pals appeared to have left Gaetz untouched four months ago when the Department of Justice indicted Stephen Alford for extortion and fraud targeting Gaetz and his father. Gaetz declared himself “vindicated” in the sex-trafficking allegations, especially after Joel Greenberg’s plea deal turned out to be an apparent bust for the DoJ.

Or did it? NBC’s Marc Caputo broke the news that a former girlfriend of Gaetz — who also worked in his office — testified before a grand jury today that’s still probing the original sex-trafficking allegations:

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend gave testimony Wednesday to a federal grand jury investigating him for sex crimes, a major development that suggests the Department of Justice may be moving closer to indicting him.

The ex-girlfriend, whose name is being withheld by NBC News to respect her privacy, has been in talks for months with prosecutors to receive an immunity deal. Under a possible deal, she would avoid prosecution for obstruction of justice in return for testifying in an investigation into whether Gaetz in 2017 had sex with a 17-year-old female for money and whether months later he and others violated a federal law prohibiting people for paying for prostitutes overseas.

Legal sources familiar with the case say Gaetz is being investigated for three distinct crimes: Sex trafficking the 17-year-old; violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking prostitutes across state lines; and obstructing justice.

If anything, the plea deal might be more worrisome to Gaetz and his team than the fact of her testimony. Witnesses don’t necessarily end up supporting charges, after all, and the fact of her appearance alone could still mean she’s offering testimony that tends toward exoneration. If prosecutors had to cut a deal with her to get her testimony, though, that means she has information valuable enough to prosecutors that they’re willing to bargain to get it.

What might that be? CNN separately corroborated the report, adding that the unnamed former paramour has information on a discussion that is apparently pertinent to the allegations:

The woman, a former Capitol Hill staffer, has been linked to Gaetz as far back as the summer of 2017. Investigators are interested in that period of time because that is when the congressman is accused of having sexual contact with another woman, who was 17 years old at the time.

The ex-girlfriend also could be integral for authorities investigating potential obstruction of justice as the probe into Gaetz’s conduct heated up. CNN has reported that investigators are aware of a discussion that Gaetz and an associate had about talking to her in October 2020.

Back to Caputo on what the content of the conversation might have been:

According to one source familiar with the case, the alleged sex-trafficking victim had told investigators at one point that Gaetz had had sex with her.

But the investigation into Gaetz was stalled as prosecutors sought the cooperation of Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend, according to those familiar with the case, because her testimony could help fill in crucial aspects of the case.

The ex-girlfriend was in an open relationship with Gaetz in 2017 and 2018 and allegedly discussed other women he was involved with, according to three friends of the former couple. She allegedly went with Gaetz and a number of other young women and friends of the congressman in 2018 on a trip to the Bahamas, a trip that is also under scrutiny, CBS News and Politico previously reported.

After the investigation began, Gaetz spoke with his ex-girlfriend in a three-way call with yet another woman who was cooperating with federal investigators at that point and was secretly recording the call, according to two sources familiar with the case.

If that’s the testimony today, then Gaetz had better start preparing for what comes next — at least politically, if not legally. Of course, this appearance doesn’t guarantee that charges are forthcoming, let alone warranted. As I noted back in September, prosecutors already have tons of baggage ahead of any indictment against Gaetz:

For those who have lost track of this scandal, it started with a former Gaetz crony named Joel Greenberg, whom the DoJ charged in a 33-count indictment on sex trafficking and wire fraud, among other crimes. Greenberg’s attorney hinted publicly that his client had something juicy to say about Gaetz, which got Greenberg a plea deal in May. Attorney Fritz Scheller then declared that Greenberg didn’t have much to say about Gaetz at all, but #YOLO, or something. But even if Greenberg did have something to say about Gaetz, Greenberg’s history of framing a political rival with false allegations of sex crimes wouldn’t make him a particularly valuable witness.

It’s been nearly four months since Greenberg’s plea deal, too. If the FBI and DoJ had something usable on Gaetz, we’d probably have already seen it. Now, with this extortion attempt involving Alford getting a felony charge, it will make it nearly impossible to then try to prosecute Gaetz on anything remotely connected to either Greenberg or Alford. On top of that, any defense attorney would have a field day tearing apart the DoJ over the leaks of the investigation of Gaetz, which led one of his former associates to accuse the media of a “feeding frenzy” of false allegations.

In other words, if you’re suddenly convinced that this is evidence that Gaetz will get indicted, I’d advise, slow your roll. The people who are giving this information to reporters likely have their own agendas, even if it’s just to boost popular interest in the case for the prosecutors. Still, it seems interesting that the grand jury has continued in this case, and that prosecutors seem to be cutting at least one deal to keep it moving. Stay tuned.