Shortly after Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson for an interview that was strange even by Carlson standards, he was raptured into conservative heaven, and has not been seen again upon this Earth. At least, that appears to be what has happened on Fox News, where Gaetz hasn't been mentioned in over 30 hours of programming.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, his story just keeps on expanding in ways that make the Florida Republican seem a lot less like a bumbling Lothario, and more like a man who was deeply engaged in multiple crimes. Far from being the victim of a plot to smear his good name, new information from The New York Times puts Gaetz at the center of the kind of sex trafficking ring that QAnon followers believe only exists in the cellars of pizza shops. One in which he apparently recruited women online and provided cash payments. Those payments appear to have included not just paying women to have sex with Gaetz, but with Florida Republican official Joel Greenberg, and an unidentified third man. And as a reminder, one of the women that Gaetz supposedly paid to travel across the country for sex, was also 17.
The longer the story goes on, the more it appears that charges of sex trafficking are highly appropriate. But as an unpleasant story gets even darker, there are still moments so jarringly ludicrous that they seem difficult to believe. For example, Gaetz is reported to have used Apple Pay, and paid women using the Cash app on his phone. Perhaps Matt Gaetz really is law-enforcement friendly, because he certainly seems to have made this case easy for them.
Sex work is an ancient profession, and sex workers need to be treated with dignity and protected rather than prosecuted. However, it doesn't appear that Gaetz reached out to sex workers in any kind of usual sense.
Instead, Gaetz and Greenberg reportedly worked together to recruit women through dating apps and online relationship sites. Then Gaetz provided the women with "gifts, fine dining, travel and allowances" in exchange for sex. Allowances here meaning cash payments.
In at least one case, the woman appears to have been someone that Gaetz and Greenberg knew through her association with Republican politics. That woman, with encouragement and payment from Gaetz and Greenberg, agreed to have sex with the unnamed third member of their sex trafficking ring.
On Thursday evening, ABC News reported that they had sources who confirmed much of the information in the Times article. That includes the information that Greenberg was indicted in 2020 for sex trafficking of a teenage girl in 2017. It's unclear if this is the same girl who Gaetz reportedly paid to travel. Greenberg has pleaded not guilty,
As the Orlando Sentinel reported on Thursday, the charges against Greenberg extend beyond allegations of sex trafficking, and into … just about everything. There's stalking a political opponent; illegally obtaining $432,000 by creating a pair of front companies to grab up small business loans under the COVID-19 relief program; using funds from his official position as a tax collector to buy Michael Jordan memorabilia, and defrauding the county by embezzling funds to buy cryptocurrency. In short, Matt Gaetz's pal appears to have never met a law he didn't like … to break.
Gaetz and Greenberg appear have engaged in their online "recruiting" business for at least two years, working out arrangements for women to meet them at hotels and pre-negotiating payment.
Gaetz and Greenberg's relationship apparently goes back to the point where both Gaetz and his father were in the Florida legislature. According to sources at ABC, women referred to Matt as "Creepy Gaetz," and he was frequently seen trying to pick up students from a nearby college.
In an earlier interview with Axios, Gaetz admitted that he had broken out his billfold (or Cash app) on multiple occasions. "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." But Gaetz denied that he had done anything illegal. "I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not."
In a statement released to the New York Times, Gaetz's office went heavily into the never suspicious third person: "Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex, Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life."
It's interesting that in the Axios interview Gaetz referred to his "single days" and the statement issued to the Times notes that Gaetz is looking forward to his upcoming wedding. Gaetz became engaged in December. But the FBI is reportedly interviewing women that Gaetz paid for sex "as recently as January."
That would seem to indicate that Gaetz was still engaged in these acts a month after he became engaged to be married. It also shows that he was still carrying on more than six months after Greenberg was arrested and indicted.
Eventually, Fox will have to mention all this. But don't worry. They've surely prepped the "Rep. Matt Gaetz (D)" chyron by now.
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