Matt Gaetz under investigation for sex trafficking; Trump sued by Capitol officers; Trump loses two lawsuits in one day
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According to a New York Times report, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under federal investigation for possibly having had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paying for her to travel with him. The DOJ began the investigation last summer, under the purview of then-Attorney General Bill Barr. It has continued for about six months, looking into whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws that “make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value.”
The probe into Gaetz stemmed from the prosecution of Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, who is facing numerous charges including stalking a political opponent, creating fake IDs, and sex trafficking of a child.
Federal prosecutors charge that Greenberg used his access as an elected official to a confidential state database to look up information about a girl between the ages of 14 and 17 with whom he was engaged in a “sugar daddy” relationship. Greenberg also is charged with producing “a false identification document and to facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,” according to federal indictments filed with the U.S. Attorney’s office in August.
Several former employees told the Orlando Sentinel that Greenberg often mentioned how he and Gaetz were close friends, and that the congressman would often visit him at his Lake Mary home.
Gaetz first took to Twitter to deny the report, saying that the story was “planted” as part of “an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official”. He told the New York Times that he has “a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Later, he appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show, in what the latter described as “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted” (clip). In the middle of denying the report’s accuracy, Gaetz seemed to implicate Carlson as a witness in the sex trafficking case:
“You and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine, you’ll remember her,” Gaetz told Tucker Carlson. “She was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that she could face trouble. So, I do believe that there are people at the Department of Justice that are trying to smear me. Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime,” (clip).
Carlson denied remembering the woman or the dinner Gaetz mentioned.
One of the NYT reporters behind the article, Katie Benner, told Rachel Maddow that the former DOJ official Gaetz named as being involved in the extortion plot was not actually involved in the investigation, at all (clip). Benner also points out that Barr – a Trump ally like Gaetz – thought the probe into Gaetz’s potential sex trafficking was important enough to continue.
Two Capitol Police officers sued former President Donald Trump yesterday for inciting his supporters into attacking them and the Capitol on January 6. Officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby assert in court documents that Trump “inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, and aided and abetted” the “insurrectionist mob” for months in the lead up to the assault (PDF). They also fault Trump’s “failure on that date to take timely action to stop his followers from continued violence at the Capitol”.
The officers ask the DC Court for compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, plus punitive damages. Both cite physical and mental injury they endure at the hands of the insurrectionists spurred on by Trump:
During the attack, Officer Hemby, an 11-year veteran of the Capitol Police, was outside the building, crushed against the side and sprayed with chemicals that burned his eyes, skin and throat, the complaint said. One member of the mob screamed that he was “disrespecting the badge.” Officer Hemby remains in physical therapy for neck and back injuries that he sustained on Jan. 6 and “has struggled to manage the emotional fallout from being relentlessly attacked,” according to the complaint.
Officer Blassingame, a 17-year veteran of the force, suffered head and back injuries during the riot, the complaint said, and experienced back pain, depression and insomnia afterward. “He is haunted by the memory of being attacked, and of the sensory impacts — the sights, sounds, smells and even tastes of the attack remain close to the surface,” the complaint said. “He experiences guilt of being unable to help his colleagues who were simultaneously being attacked; and of surviving where other colleagues did not.”
The New York Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos’ defamation case against Donald Trump can continue. The case stems from statements made by Trump in 2016 calling Zervos a liar after she accused him of sexually assaulting her years earlier. Trump’s lawyers tried to argue that state courts are not authorized to hear cases against a sitting president, an issue that is no longer relevant with Trump as a private citizen again.
The case could yield the first deposition of Mr. Trump since he took office in January 2017, compelling him to testify about his behavior during the period of time in 2007 and 2008 when he and Ms. Zervos were in contact, as well as during his first campaign… Mr. Trump might also be compelled to testify, under oath, about his responses to other accusations of sexual misconduct.
Southern District of New York Judge Paul Gardephe threw out a broad non-disclosure agreement Trump’s 2016 campaign used to try to silence a former employee. Jessica Denson worked as a Hispanic outreach director for Trump in 2016, later accusing the campaign of abusive treatment and sexual harassment. The campaign sued her for allegedly breaching the confidentiality agreement, which Gardephe found to be “not reasonable.”
Technically, Gardephe’s decision applies only to Denson, barring the campaign from enforcing the NDA against her. But her attorneys said Tuesday they think the decision effectively nullifies all the NDAs the Trump campaign has issued… “From our perspective, it’s really not about politics,” Langford said. “No one should have to give up their free speech rights or swear allegiance to a candidate forever just to get a job with or volunteer on a campaign.”
Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop was charged on Friday with five criminal counts for drunk driving and fleeing the police on March 16. According to the criminal complaint, Suellentrop was going 90 miles an hour in a 65-miles-per-hour zone, evading a police roadblock and driving the wrong way on highways through Topeka in an attempt to avoid arrest. While he has given his legislative duties to other lawmakers, Suellentrop has so far refused to resign and other Republicans have not taken action to expel him.
Dominion Voting Systems added to its numerous lawsuits last week, filing a defamation suit against Fox News for spreading false claims that the company altered the result of the 2020 election. “Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process,” the company wrote, asking the courts for at least $1.6 billion in damages. Last month, Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox and named anchors Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro as defendants.
- Dominion has also sued pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. It has sent letters to preserve evidence and warning of potential litigation to Newsmax, One America News, and pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood, among others.
- Giuliani tried “for nearly a week” to dodge the Dominion lawsuit: “After not responding to requests to waive service, Mr. Giuliani evaded in-person service of process for nearly a week. It took numerous attempts, at both his home and office, before we were able to successfully serve Mr. Giuliani on February 10.”
- Powell also hid from Dominion’s process server: “Powell evaded service of process for weeks, forcing Dominion to incur unnecessary expenses for extraordinary measures to effect service, including hiring private investigators and pursuing Powell across state lines.”
In responding to Dominion’s defamation lawsuit, pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell told the court that “no reasonable persons” would take her rantings as “truly statements of fact”. The strategy is similar to that successfully employed by Fox News in a defamation case against Tucker Carlson. However, unlike Carlson, Powell pursued her false claims in other courts of law across the nation. In Michigan, for instance, a judge dismissed her allegations of widespread fraud as “nothing but speculation and conjecture”.
The Arizona Republican Party was ordered to pay the state $18,000 in attorneys’ fees for acting in “bad faith” when it sought to delay certification of election results last November. However, the Secretary of State’s Office says the ruling covers only a fraction of the $150,000 it spent defending itself from eight election-related lawsuits in 2020. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah said it was the GOP’s lawsuit, not the ballot counting procedure, that “cast false shadows on the election’s legitimacy.”
A three-judge appellate panel reinstated a guilty verdict against Michael Flynn’s ex-business partner, finding that a lower court judge erred in throwing out the jury’s conviction. In July 2019, former Flynn partner Bijan Rafiekian was convicted by a Virginia jury on two counts of violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act during his work on behalf of Turkey. Flynn and Rafiekian attempted to have an elderly Muslim dissident extradited from the United States to face charges in Turkey. George W. Bush appointee Judge Anthony Trenga, of the Eastern District of Virginia, dismissed the conviction months later, claiming “the evidence was insufficient.”
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Trenga, writing that “[a] reasonable jury could conclude that Rafiekian and Alptekin conspired to act subject to Turkey’s direction”. The panel – made up of both Democratic and Republican appointees – could see its decision appealed to the full Circuit bench.
Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he signed a sweeping anti-abortion bill into law solely to give the Supreme Court the chance the overturn Roe v. Wade. “That was the whole design of the law. It is not constitutional under Supreme Court cases right now,” Hutchinson said. “I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.” The Arkansas law would only allow abortion in cases where it’s necessary to save the life or preserve the health of the fetus or mother; there are no exceptions in situations of rape or incest.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) lost a lawsuit filed against her for blocking critics on Twitter; she was ordered to pay $10,000 in legal fees to the PAC that won the case.
Indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Twitter Probe Is a ‘Profound Threat’ to Free Speech Online, Rights Groups Tell Court
Judge lets Austin keep mask mandate in legal battle with Texas AG Ken Paxton
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Florida to feds: Allow cruise ships to operate or we’ll sue
Other justice issues
New York’s attorney general’s office has joined forces with Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance in investigating Steve Bannon for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from “We Build the Wall” donors. Bannon and three others were arrested by federal authorities last year. While Bannon was pardoned by Trump, his co-defendants were not. Vance can charge Bannon with state-level crimes, that are immune to presidential pardons, without triggering a double jeopardy clause because Bannon was never convicted at the federal level.
“The AG is working hand-in-hand with the DA’s office in leading this investigation,” one person said. New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) “has been looking at Bannon for a while,” the person added.
The Department of Defense’s inspector general has finished its investigation into Michael Flynn after a years-long delay, sending its report to the Army for review. The Acting Secretary of the Army may decide to take action against Flynn, which could include tens of thousands of dollars in financial penalties, for accepting money from Russian and Turkish entities without obtaining the proper approval.
Further reading: Former Florida state senator charged in spoiler candidate scheme