If you’ve had a rough week, here’s a moment of schadenfreude: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) likely had a far worse one. On nearly every front, from the Justice Department investigation, to smackdowns in Congressional hearings, to his campaign finances, to even his profession as a lawyer, the cards have not been kind on Gaetz’s personal and political fortunes.
Earlier in the week, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department had added two new top prosecutors to his case. As nearly everyone is aware by now, Gaetz is under investigation for child sex trafficking, which carries a minimum federal sentence of 10 years if he is convicted. One of the added team members is a public corruption investigator with an expertise in child exploitation crimes while the other is a top leader of the public corruption unit of the Department. If Gaetz, who is a staunch ally of former President Trump, wanted a signal that things were starting to cool off in his case, this wasn’t it.
Another development that looks worrisome for Gaetz is that his associate, Joel Greenberg, who has been charged and pled guilty to sex trafficking the same girl, this week asked for his sentencing to be delayed until March. Prosecutors stated that Greenberg was continuing to provide investigators more information about his activities in relation to an ongoing federal probe, which could mean more information about Gaetz’s or other parties’ involvement. The judge granted the motion.
Gaetz’s usual attention-grabbing antics in Congress wound up backfiring on him as well. A viral video of Gaetz’s appearance as a “witness” before the Rules Committee of the House on Wednesday cast him in a decidedly poor light, especially opposite Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who is a constitutional law professor. Gaetz came to disrupt the committee through grandstanding but instead was schooled on election law and the lack of evidence of election fraud. “That might work on Steve Bannon’s podcast, but that’s not going to work in the Rules Committee,” Raskin scolded. Another committee member, Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA), wasn’t having it either. Speaking about both Gaetz and his fellow disrupter Jim Jordan (R-OH), Torres set the tone quickly. “This is not about somebody paying to have sex with a young girl, or somebody not protecting people that are under their jurisdiction. This is about our democracy.”
Gaetz also had to disclose some terrible news this week on the fundraising front. After raising record amounts in the first two quarters of the year, largely due to his stature as a key Trump ally and the perception that he was being targeted by the Justice Department, Gaetz reported only $500,000 for the third quarter—which was less than the $600,000 he spent. His campaign tour with QAnon conspiracy theorist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene also fizzled, especially after counter-protesters chased them out of many public areas. As Gaetz begins to take a lower public profile due to his ongoing legal troubles, and as questions about his guilt rise among his base of backers, Gaetz’s ability to raise funds for his reelection appears severely impacted.
Things are apparently chaotic enough that Gaetz also has seen his good standing as a dues-paying member of the Florida bar to lapse. The Daily Beast reported that Gaetz apparently has allowed his license to practice law in his home state of Florida to slip, and he is now considered “delinquent” on his fees. As a result, the Florida Bar Association has deemed him “not eligible to practice law in Florida.” Gaetz’s office denies that this was an oversight, and instead stated the Congressman is focusing entirely on his Congressional career and is no longer actively engaged as a lawyer. The normal practice, however, for lawyers who want to focus on other matters or careers is to simply go “inactive” and pay a small annual fee, but that is not what Gaetz did. It could well be that he does not want to face the prospect and embarrassment of disciplinary hearings before the State Bar should his legal woes grow.
Is all of this pressure getting to Gaetz? If his recent speech on the House floor is any indication, it appears so. Gaetz used his time to state a bizarre story on the record: “I think someone may be trying to kill me and if they are successful, I would like my constituents and my family to know who stopped their arrest.” Gaetz was referring to a threatening tweet sent to him online, apparently unaware of the number of similar threats received daily by progressive House members from angry men on the far-right. It’s unclear if Gaetz is truly scared for his life or using the incident as a way to draw sympathy or raise money, but in either event, it is certainly unusual to go to Congress to vent his concerns rather than keep the matter between him and law enforcement.
This all indicates that Gaetz’s star is fading and he knows it. If the prosecutors move forward with an indictment, that star could wink out rather quickly.