This morning on the way to my day job, I happened to check my phone and see an extensive Fox News rundown of the many legal troubles Matt Gaetz faces. Besides the federal sex trafficking charges, the fair and balance network told us about how Gaetz’ sordid history with women while serving in the Florida state house. Among other things, he allegedly took part in a “Spur Posse”-style competition with his male colleagues in which they earned points for their sexual conquests.
Even if Gaetz’ interview of Tucker Carlson was an own goal, it’s pretty staggering that Fox News ran a story like this about one of Trump’s staunchest allies. Clearly, someone wants him gone. But if there was any doubt that Gaetz is cooked, it should have been erased this morning. The top prosecutor in Palm Beach County, State’s Attorney Dave Aronberg, dropped by Morning Joe to discuss the potential legal hurt Gaetz faces.
Aronberg told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt that if Gaetz is convicted on the most serious charge—child sex trafficking—he faces a minimum of 10 years in prison, and a maximum of life. And there’s a chance that the county official whose misdeeds reportedly led to the current investigation into Gaetz could potentially put “Florida Man” in a legal checkmate.
Aronberg believes the biggest problem for Gaetz is that Joel Greenberg — the former tax collector for Seminole County who has been brought up on federal charges for sex trafficking of a minor — could turn on Gaetz and provide evidence incriminating the congressman. Such a move could blow up what Aronbrerg called Gaetz’s “last remaining defense” — claiming he either did not have sex with the 17-year old girl at the center of the investigation or claiming she turned 18 by the time he did.
“Those defenses can be overcome by the sworn testimony of the alleged victim, or the discovery of incriminating documents like text messages, emails amongst the parties, or if Joel Greenberg flips on the bigger fish — Matt Gaetz,” Aronberg said. “Which I think is almost certain at this point.”
Aronberg noted that the Greenberg case involves the same girl who is at the center of the Gaetz case. To Aronberg’s mind, this means prosecutors not only believe the girl was a minor, but that “something of value exchanged hands” between the girl and Greenberg. He believes it’s possible the same charges could be applied to Gaetz—and that his “last remaining defense” could be torpedoed if either the girl or Greenberg testify. He believes Greenberg is very likely to flip if he hasn’t already done so. Not only does Greenberg face spending the rest of his life in prison, but he’s currently in jail for violating his pretrial release conditions.
But according to Aronberg, the potential legal landmines for Gaetz don’t end there.
“For Gaetz, the problem is, it’s not just child sex trafficking,” Aronberg said. “If they can’t prove that and can only prove he had sex with an underage girl, well, that would be a violation of the state law against having sex with a minor. And that is a 15-year maximum sentence. And you have to register as a sex offender. Even if it’s solicitation of a sex act, that’s also a felony, plus registration as a sex offender. There are no good outcomes here, I think, for Matt Gaetz in the future.”
Specifically, if Gaetz were convicted of statutory rape or solicitation of a sex act, he would face a minimum of five-and-a-half years in prison, and would have to complete sex offender probation and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
In other words—if there’s anything at all to this, Gaetz may have more immediate worries than keeping his House seat. And the more I think about it, there’s a good reason to think there’s definitely a there there. He can’t credibly dismiss this as politically motivated, seeing that the investigation was initiated when Bill Barr was still attorney general.
Bill Palmer notes that the clock is already ticking for Gaetz on Capitol Hill. The House Repubs are reportedly prepared to give Gaetz what amounts to a “resign or be expelled” ultimatum if Gaetz is indicted, and House Democrats are mounting an Ethics Committee investigation into claims Gaetz showed nude pictures of his sexual conquests to his colleagues on the House floor.
There’s no delicate way to put it—Matt Gaetz is screwed eight ways to Sunday.
It’s been argued in the comments that past history suggests Gaetz could get a lenient sentence. I doubt it. The most likely scenario, based on my research, would have him pleading to state charges in return for dropping federal charges. But even then, he’d have to serve five-and-a-half years minimum plus sex offender probation. And sex offender probation in Florida is not easy to complete. The only way I can see a lenient sentence for Gaetz is if prosecutors are so determined to keep the victim from having to testify that they are willing to offer him one.