WaPo: Career prosecutors tell DoJ they have no viable case against Gaetz

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Is this vindication for Matt Gaetz, or will this get chalked up as a stalemate? The Washington Post reports that the long-running probe into sex trafficking that involved the Florida Republican didn’t find enough reliable evidence and testimony to charge him with any crimes.

This recommendation should bring the scandal to a close — at least in terms of legal liability, anyway:

Career prosecutors have recommended against charging Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in a long-running sex-trafficking investigation — telling Justice Department superiors that a conviction is unlikely in part because of credibility questions with the two central witnesses, according to people familiar with the matter.

Senior department officials have not made a final decision on whether to charge Gaetz, but it is rare for such advice to be rejected, these people told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations. They added that it is always possible additional evidence emerges that could alter prosecutors’ understanding of the case.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that federal authorities will charge Gaetz with a crime in an investigation that started in late 2020 and focused on his alleged involvement with a 17-year-old girl several years earlier. Gaetz, 40, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying he has never paid for sex. He has also said the only time he had sex with a 17-year-old was when he was also 17.

As the Post explains and as has been well covered in the past, the two witnesses are the victim herself and Gaetz’ friend Joel Greenberg. The problem with the victim as a witness against Gaetz is that she was already 18 on the occasion of the trip she allegedly took with Greenberg and Gaetz. As an adult, Gaetz’ proximity to her or even any relations they had would not necessarily be a legal issue.

Interestingly, it appears that Gaetz’ ex-girlfriend turned into another dead end. Back in January, leaks from the investigation painted her as a key link in a testimonial chain that would result in a Gaetz indictment. The DoJ gave her immunity in exchange for her testimony, which now appears to have been useless. One has to wonder just why she needed immunity in the first place, but at least it appeared a worthwhile grant in terms of what she was supposed to deliver:

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 women across state lines for prostitution; and obstructing justice. …

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.

It’s on that call that Gaetz is suspected of obstructing justice, which federal prosecutors are investigating, according to law enforcement sources.

Apparently we can presume that prosecutors struck out on those three pitches, based on today’s report in the Post.

But what about Greenberg? He too cut a deal with the DoJ that sliced 27 counts off of his indictment, presumably in exchange for incriminating testimony against Gaetz. The Post notes that prosecutors don’t consider him a reliable witness either — and one has to wonder why they ever thought he might be:

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. …

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.

In other words, prosecutors hoped to use as their key witness against Gaetz a man who had fabricated allegations of wrongdoing in the past to benefit himself. That’s almost insane, and apparently these prosecutors managed to recover their mental health, albeit belatedly. What they have left, however, is an immunity grant to one person and a sweetheart plea deal to another, only to come up empty.

That may not amount to a full vindication for Gaetz, whose behavior may still leave him open to some criticism, but it certainly doesn’t paint the DoJ in a good light, either. One has to wonder why it took them this long to discover the woman was 18 at the time and Greenberg is a terrible witness when the rest of us knew these facts months ago.