It’s a good thing because we shouldn’t hope that he committed a horrible crime, and after a long and detailed investigation, career prosecutors have apparently recommended against charging.
While we don’t know all the evidence prosecutors had or didn’t have, anyone who hoped Gaetz would be charged was just looking at it through an anti-Gaetz political prism. But on the other side, the investigation, which was launched by former Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department, was not some political hit, either.
Few on either side want to say maybe, just maybe, this is a case where the justice system worked. A case that was opened legitimately based on witness accounts, and yet there wasn’t enough evidence to prove a case. I get that doesn’t lead to the lifeblood of cable news — outrage — but it also may be the reality.
Investigators were evaluating whether Gaetz paid for sex in violation of federal sex-trafficking laws centered around his dealings with a then-17-year-old girl.
Gaetz had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying he never paid for sex and saying that the only time he ever had sex with a 17-year-old was when he was the same age. A federal grand jury in Orlando heard testimony including from an ex-girlfriend who was among several women on a trip Gaetz allegedly took to the Bahamas in 2018 that has been of particular interest to investigators.
But the heart of the investigation came from Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for Seminole County, Florida, and a friend of Gaetz. Greenberg pleaded guilty last year to sex trafficking of a minor and a host of other crimes as part of a cooperation deal with authorities.
Greenberg was first charged in 2020 with fabricating allegations and evidence to smear a political opponent, but prosecutors continued to investigate and added charges to his case. He ultimately agreed to plead guilty to six criminal charges, including sex trafficking of a child, aggravated identity theft and wire fraud.
In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other 27 counts Greenberg faced and recommended a far lesser sentencing range than he was facing. While he has yet to be sentenced, Greenberg’s attorney made it clear what his deal meant for Matt Gaetz.
“Based on what my client knows, I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg’s attorney said at the time.
The clear implication there was that Greenberg flipped on his old friend, but it turns out he also wouldn’t have been a particularly credible witness.
The prosecutors who investigated the case told “Justice Department superiors that a conviction is unlikely due to credibility questions with the two central witnesses,” according to the Washington Post.
Now, many in the left-leaning media were outraged that a guy they dislike and disdain is off the hook. In the initial coverage MSNBC and CNN, one was left with a clear impression that it was just a matter of time before Gaetz was in an orange jumpsuit.
Gaetz represents the conservative 1st Congressional District in Florida’s panhandle and is well known as a vocal defender of former President Donald Trump. He has long claimed his innocence and suggested he was the victim of a politically motivated investigation, saying during an interview on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” last spring “what is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former justice official.”
But the investigation was opened during the Trump administration. You can question why prosecutors would have cut the deal with Greenberg, particularly if the goal was to get evidence against Gaetz. But on the whole, this is how the system is supposed to work.
The allegations against Gaetz were not made by corrupt FBI agents or prosecutors, which appears to be the default position for many on the far right. Every day, prosecutors and police have to make tough charging decisions based on evidence presented to them.
Many on both sides have tried to make this case a cause rather than the reality: that maybe, just maybe, they just did the right legal thing.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not of NewsNation.