Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
The hits just keep coming for future former congressman Matt Gaetz.
Gaetz was already having a bad week, and on Thursday things got considerably worse. Federal prosecutors and a lawyer for Joel Greenberg, the former county tax collector and friend of Gaetz who’s been accused of sex trafficking, said during a brief Thursday hearing that Greenberg is likely to take a plea deal.
This spells bad news for 39-year-old Gaetz, as the probe into the three-term Florida congressman and Trump ally has been described in multiple outlets as part of a broader investigation into Greenberg. “From my mind, based on what my client knows… I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today, alright?” Fritz Scheller, Greenberg’s attorney, told reporters in Orlando Thursday.
In addition to previously reported allegations that Gaetz may have paid for sex with a girl who was 17 at the time, investigators are also looking into a trip to the Bahamas Gaetz took with other Florida Republicans. The FBI has questioned witnesses about whether a group of women on the trip had been paid for sex and whether the trip attendees took drugs, according to the New York Times. Officials are also looking into an alleged conversation where Gaetz spoke with a Florida lobbyist about putting a “ghost” third-party candidate on the ballot in a state Senate race to help one of Gaetz’s friends, according to the Times.
Gaetz has forcefully denied having or paying for sex with a minor, and Gaetz’s own lawyer said the allegations were false. “In your apparent rush to grab a headline, your story contains numerous false facts which call into question your sources—both as to their credibility and to the source of their knowledge,” Geoffrey Johnson, Gaetz’s attorney, told the Times.
Also on Thursday, Gaetz’s female staff released a statement signed as “The Women of U.S. Congresswoman Matt Gaetz’s Office” in defense of their boss. "On every occasion he has treated each and every one of us with respect,” the statement says. “Thus, we uniformly reject these allegations as false." No one from Gaetz’s office actually signed their name to the statement.
But on Thursday, the Times reported that a second top Gaetz staffer, legislative director Devin Murphy, had quit amid the investigation into Gaetz. In a message to VICE News, Murphy confirmed he left Gaetz’s office last week, adding it “was not contentious” and declining further comment.
But it didn’t get much better for Gaetz there. On Thursday night, the Daily Beast reported on transactions on the platform Venmo, where Gaetz sent Greenberg a total of $900, followed by Greenberg sending a total of $900 the next morning to three women. One of the Gaetz transactions was labeled “hit up [nickname for one of the recipients],” a woman who had turned 18 less than six months before the transactions, according to the Daily Beast.
The transactions were publicly available on Gaetz’s page until this week, while the Daily Beast was reporting its story. Gaetz’s Venmo feed is now restricted and Greenberg’s is no longer available.
Before the end of the night, the growing calls for Gaetz’s resignation had become bipartisan, as Rep. Adam Kinzinger—a House Republican who voted for the impeachment of former President Donald Trump—shared a link to the Daily Beast story on Twitter and added: “Matt Gaetz needs to resign.”
Gaetz has so far insisted he won’t resign. On Friday night, he’s slated to speak at the Save America Summit at the Trump National Doral golf resort in Miami, an event organized by the Women for America First group which organized the Jan. 6 Save America rally in D.C.