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Why the new guilty pleas from Matt Gaetz's 'wingman' matters

Joel Greenberg this morning pleaded guilty to several felonies, including sex-trafficking of a minor. For Matt Gaetz, this is not at all good news.

It was nearly two months ago when the New York Times first reported that the Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor, possibly violating federal sex-trafficking laws in the process. As we discussed last week, the scope of the scandal surrounding the Florida Republican has grown considerably since the initial revelations.

For the beleaguered Florida congressman, matters took a turn for the worse this morning.

Joel Greenberg, the former Florida tax official whose criminal case led to a sex-trafficking investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to six of the charges against him and acknowledged that he plans to fully cooperate with federal investigators. Wearing a jail jumpsuit and a blue surgical mask and in shackles, Greenberg admitted his guilt to six of the 33 charges initially filed against him — identity theft, stalking, wire fraud, conspiracy to bribe a public official and sex-trafficking of a minor.

For those who may need a refresher, let's review how we arrived at this point.

At the center of Matt Gaetz's controversy is one of the congressman's close friends: Joel Greenberg, an almost comically scandalous figure, who was indicted on a whole lot of charges, several of which he pleaded guilty to this morning.

It was the investigation into Greenberg that reportedly led to scrutiny of the Republican congressman, who has reportedly described Greenberg as his "wingman."

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

We know that Gaetz is dealing with an ongoing Justice Department investigation, in part because the congressman has already acknowledged the probe. Now that Greenberg -- who has first-hand knowledge of Gaetz's alleged wrongdoing -- is cooperating with prosecutors, it suggests the GOP lawmaker has reason to be concerned.

Indeed, this point was not lost on Greenberg's lawyer. Last month, as Greenberg moved closer to a plea agreement with the Justice Department, his attorney spoke to reporters and said, in unsubtle terms, "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today."

The far-right congressman has denied any wrongdoing.

As Rachel emphasized on Friday night's show, the good news for Gaetz is that his former pal may have a credibility problem. After all, the guy just pleaded guilty to several felonies, including sex-trafficking of a minor.

But prosecutors have already gone out of their way to highlight the safeguards in the plea agreement to ensure that Greenberg is entirely forthright -- the punishments for deceptions would be severe -- and as the Washington Post's Michael Schmidt explained on the show on Friday night, prosecutors aren't relying exclusively on Greenberg for information.

For his part, Gaetz appeared at a political event in Ohio over the weekend and equated the sex-trafficking investigation with budget earmarks. Watch this space.