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Why grand jury testimony from Matt Gaetz's ex-girlfriend matters

Rep. Matt Gaetz's ex-girlfriend testified to a federal grand jury, which is not good news for the Florida Republican.

It's been nearly a year since Rep. Matt Gaetz's scandal first broke, and since then, the Florida Republican has received very little encouraging news. It's against this backdrop that NBC News reports that the congressman's ex-girlfriend testified today before a federal grand jury.

The ex-girlfriend, whose name is being withheld by NBC News to respect her privacy, has been in talks for months with prosecutors about an immunity deal. Under a possible deal, she would avoid prosecution for obstruction of justice in return for testifying in the 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.

NBC News' report added that the GOP lawmaker 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.

For those who may need a refresher, it was last March when The New York Times first reported on the Justice Department's investigation into the Florida congressman. According to the initial reporting, investigators were examining allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor, possibly violating federal sex-trafficking laws in the process.

At the center of Gaetz's controversy is one of the congressman's close friends: Joel Greenberg, an almost comically scandalous figure, who was 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." (Gaetz has also reportedly described him as a "wingman.")

As we've discussed, there was reporting soon after that Greenberg would recruit women online, and then introduce them to Gaetz for sex. Politico added in April, "The two shared more than one girlfriend, according to interviews with eight friends and associates who know the two men."

Greenberg ultimately pleaded guilty as part of a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors. He's also apparently been a fount of information: Greenberg's prison sentence was delayed because he was providing so many useful leads. One prosecutor told a judge in October that Greenberg had raised allegations that "take us to some places we did not anticipate."

The same week, the Justice Department reportedly added two top prosecutors to the investigation.

Now, there's apparently a federal grand jury, whose members heard from Gaetz's ex-girlfriend today.

NBC News' report went on to note, "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."

For his part, Gaetz has acknowledged the Justice Department investigation, but he's also denied any wrongdoing.

House Republican leaders, meanwhile, have said they intend to overlook the Floridian's scandal unless and until he's criminally charged. Watch this space.

Postscript: In late March 2021, the GOP congressman appeared on Fox News and said he had not asked Donald Trump for a pardon before he left office. A week later, the New York Times reported that Gaetz "privately asked" the Republican White House "for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies."

The report added, "In recent days, some Trump associates have speculated that Mr. Gaetz's request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure."

Gaetz, obviously, did not receive a pre-emptive pardon. Should the congressman need one, he probably shouldn't bother appealing to the Biden White House for leniency.