At the center of Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) controversy is one of the congressman's close friends: Joel Greenberg, an almost comically scandalous figure, who has been indicted on a variety of crimes, "including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl." It was the investigation into Greenberg that reportedly led to scrutiny of Gaetz.
As we've discussed, there's been reporting in recent days that Greenberg would recruit women online, and then introduce them to Gaetz for sex. Politico added this week, "The two shared more than one girlfriend, according to interviews with eight friends and associates who know the two men. Gaetz described Greenberg as a 'wingman' to some acquaintances.... Now some suspect Greenberg might be cooperating with prosecutors to build a case against Gaetz."
It was that last point that was of particular interest. We know that Gaetz is dealing with an ongoing Justice Department investigation, in part because the congressman has already acknowledged the probe. If Greenberg -- who has first-hand knowledge of Gaetz's alleged wrongdoing -- has begun cooperating with prosecutors, it would suggest the GOP lawmaker has reason to be concerned.
It's against this backdrop that the New York Times reported this afternoon:
A former local official in Florida who faces an array of federal charges, including a sex trafficking count, is expected to plead guilty in the coming weeks, a prosecutor and a defense lawyer said on Thursday in an indication that the defendant could cooperate as a key witness against Representative Matt Gaetz, who is under investigation. A plea by the former elected official, Joel Greenberg, could significantly strengthen the Justice Department's hand as it investigates Mr. Gaetz and others who met Mr. Greenberg through Florida Republican politics and are being scrutinized on potential sex trafficking violations.
There was a brief hearing in an Orlando courtroom today, during which both sides -- the federal prosecutor and Greenberg's defense attorney -- agreed that the case was likely to be resolved with a plea deal. That agreement is not yet official, and the lawyers have until May 15 to work something out before a possible trial, but it appears that the relevant actors expect to work something out.
And for the sitting Republican congressman, that would be a highly discouraging development. Indeed, Greenberg's lawyer briefly spoke to reporters outside the courtroom this afternoon and said, in unsubtle terms, "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today."
A Politico report this afternoon added that the GOP lawmaker's legal peril appears to have "increased sharply," and today's developments signaled "potentially serious trouble for Gaetz."
The congressman has denied the allegations. Though Gaetz has also vowed not to resign, the fact remains that the Florida Republican is also running short on friends.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged last week that the allegations surrounding Gaetz are "serious," and the GOP leader intended to have a private meeting with the Floridian about the controversy. It's not yet clear if that meeting has taken place.