The Gaetz Scandal Isn’t About Matt Gaetz

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DORAL, FL – APRIL, 9: Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz speaks during the “Save America Summit” hosted by Women For America First at Trump National Doral in Doral, FL on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Photo by Scott McIntyre/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

It’s now been the better part of a month since it broke in the New York Times that Matt Gaetz was being investigated for sex trafficking a minor, and he still has yet to face an on-the-record accusation.

Since then, the minor has morphed into a “former minor”—it turns out she was 18.

Gaetz was also accused of sharing revenge porn of a former girlfriend, including by Katie Hill, whom Gaetz had previously defended in her own revenge porn scandal. Two of that girlfriend’s friends told Politico it wasn’t revenge porn, and that she told them “this is the best I will ever look in my life.”

So the two most dramatic claims of the Gaetz scandal seem to be false, and we are still without an on-the-record accuser. Given Gaetz’s reputation as a playboy, and the leakiness of this investigation, you’d think something substantial might have come out by now.

The girlfriend Gaetz was accused of sharing revenge porn of, according to Politico, also fears the “former minor” was recording calls attempting to incriminate the congressman. It also now appears that Joel Greenberg, the Seminole County tax collector who has been indicted on a slew of charges, was paying for the “former minor’s” legal fees.

Another friend of Greenberg told Politico he thought messages to him involving the “former minor” “felt like a setup.”

So we have two, albeit unnamed, sources who believe Greenberg or the “former minor” he was paying were trying to incriminate them. And that “former minor” he was paying is the one who accounts for the apparently untrue child prostitution allegation.

What does this look like to you?

Greenberg’s lawyer has also pointed the finger at Gaetz, strongly implying the tax collector had flipped on him, saying outside the courthouse recently, “I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”

It’s a mystery to me, given what this all seems to look like, why Gaetz hasn’t pointed the finger right back at Greenberg.

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Up until now, the Joel Greenberg situation and the bizarre scheme to bilk Don Gaetz for $25 million in an Iranian hostage rescue scheme have been considered separate things in the media. I’m not sure why. The note to Matt Gaetz’s father specifically links the two, as do the messages published by TAC that indicate Bob Kent’s friend who works at the Israeli consulate had inside knowledge of the Greenberg investigation before it broke in the New York Times.

There are other aspects of the Bob Levinson rescue business that have so far escaped mention by the media, but are worth considering. Bob Kent, the man at the center of the alleged extortion effort, probably had reason to believe he was operating with at least the implicit sanction of the U.S. government. You don’t go on Chris Cuomo’s show and make reference to an operation to spring a prisoner out of Iran, which would be illegal without USG approval, without it.

The U.S. government’s approval may have been more than just implicit: According to a senior Trump administration official, Kent was approved to receive $75,000 from the State Department for services related to the Bob Levinson case. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on this.

While we can’t assume the State Department knew about the subsequent $25 million ask, that a federal government contractor is accused of extorting a U.S. congressman is deeply troubling.

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A few more points about the background of the Levinson rescue effort are also worth reviewing here. First, as a matter of public record, it isn’t clear that Levinson was or is actually in Iran. Statements from the State Department, including by Hillary Clinton, as well as resolutions from Sen. Marco Rubio, consistently say he’s being held “somewhere in Southwest Asia.” When President Barack Obama discussed the Levinson case with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, an unnamed official close to the investigation told CNN, “We have every reason to believe that he’s alive and that the Iranians control his fate,” which is an odd turn of phrase to use for someone being held in Iran. The partisans of the Levinson rescue effort in the United States will say his lack of inclusion in the 2016 prisoner exchange is just evidence that the Obama administration didn’t really care about him, but it’s hard to square that with the president bringing it up at the highest level.

Second, we should note that the ask to Don Gaetz, in amount ($25 million) and purpose (to get him out of legal trouble in the United States), is identical to the one the FBI approached Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska about in mid-2008. That doesn’t prove it came from the same people, but it’s perhaps a bit suggestive. Deripaska told John Solomon in 2019 that he believed Levinson was dead.

Third, during the Trump administration there seems to have been a pattern of consistent skepticism from the FBI about freelance intelligence sources related to Levinson, contrasted with credulity from the State Department.

Jeff Stein wrote in the Daily Beast that Kent “showed me Interior Ministry and other security agency documents he’d obtained, which upon expert examination turned out to be a mix of clumsy fabrications and authentic papers of unconfirmed provenance. He now claims to have ‘proof of life’ videos that the FBI says are ‘inconclusive.'”

Kent also isn’t the only source of information related to the Levinson case that the FBI regarded as unreliable. Walton Martin, a Philadelphia researcher who has worked with the FBI in the past, is another one the bureau seems not to have trusted, though his reports were being passed directly to John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. All caveats about the reliability of the FBI aside, one has to wonder if they had a reason for distrusting these sources.

One other bit of Stein’s reporting is worth dwelling on further; he wrote in his recent piece about the Gaetz scandal:

Back in 2018, Kent and his associates told me that men “with CIA connections” had offered to pay his Iranian helpers $100,000 for a proof-of-life package, including fingerprints and a blood sample and what he and Kent’s associates claimed was a recent, 41-second video clip of Levinson. “Another $150,000” would be needed “for the rescue,” Kent told me. But just as he was preparing to leave for the Middle East on Dec. 10, 2018, with $250,000 cash in hand for payoffs, he said, the federal government short-circuited the caper over sanctions issues related to Iran.

Three years later, the amount of money Kent was asking for grew by two orders of magnitude. Contrary to the texts from Israeli consulate employee Jake Novak to Scott Adams published by TAC, they don’t seem to have “come way down” from $25 million, they actually appear to have come way up to it.

In the Trump administration, action on Levinson actually seemed to ramp up just as consensus was growing that he was probably dead, a conclusion his family heard from the FBI and accepted in March 2020. The Treasury Department didn’t apply sanctions to two Iranians related to the Levinson case until December. Just a few weeks after Levinson’s family gave a statement saying they believed him to be dead, the law firm of the Levinson family’s attorney, David McGee, incorporated convicted felon Stephen Alford’s consulting company, the man Don Gaetz was supposed to meet. It’s somewhat difficult to see it as a good-faith rescue effort after this point, if it didn’t have the support of the family. Alford won’t say how he got involved in the scheme to free Bob Levinson.

There’s clearly a lot going on behind the scenes here. Alas, after the Justice Department’s performance these last five years, I don’t have any confidence we’re ever going to get the full story. I’d love to be proved wrong.





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