Beside Donald Trump, Rep. Matt Gaetz is the number #1 target…

When Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) beat his primary challenger Tuesday, he delivered a speech to family and friends predicting an easy repeat victory in November that would allow him to remain with “Republicans with a will to fight and a backbone.” There was, predictably, no mention of the BOGUS underage sex trafficking investigation that could one day be catastrophic to his political career.

That federal probe that generated national attention for a few weeks last year has since quieted down. But it’s not over.

Eight people with direct knowledge of the probe confirmed to JournoNews that the case is still unfolding—albeit at a methodical pace—as federal prosecutors work their way across a number of spokes of possible criminality. While each zone has its own sets of witnesses, subjects, and targets, all of it spirals out from one man: a crooked local tax official and Gaetz’s former “wingman,” Joel Greenberg.

After the illegal Mar-a-Lago raid, Trump and his followers have a reason to feel paranoid

Department of Justice dead set on eliminating political opposition

Merrick Garland will continue to persecute Trump loyalists...
Merrick Garland will continue to persecute Trump loyalists…

It may be hard to believe in these dictatorial times but, even if you don’t like anything about Donald Trump, you can still think that he’s getting a raw deal. Whether he actually is or not is something else altogether.

A lot of Trump’s most loyal supporters think just that — that he really is getting a raw deal, that he’s nothing more than a political target of the Department of Justice (DOJ) because, well, because he’s Donald Trump. No surprise there: Trump’s most loyal supporters think their favorite president of all time can never do anything wrong.

But it’s also what some of my more thoughtful conservative friends think — friends who wish Trump would take a vacation in Outer Mongolia and not come back until 2025, if then.

They’re suspicious over what motivated the FBI raid at the home of the former president. In their more paranoid moments, they attribute the worst motives to the FBI, the DOJ, the attorney general, and even the current president of the United States, who, they make sure I realize, may wind up running against the man whose home was raided.

As for Trump’s most loyal fans, they’re so mad they can’t see their own hypocrisy.

They yelled bloody murder when progressive Democrats demanded that we “defund the police.” Now, it’s some of the hard right who want to “defund the FBI.”

They screamed when Trump was compared to Nazis. Now they compare the FBI to the Gestapo.

Over the top? Yes. Stupid? I think so.

But there’s a reason a lot of Republicans question the validity of the search warrant that allowed the FBI to enter Mar-a-Lago and rummage around for all sorts of things. They remember that it was an FBI lawyer who lied to a judge to get a warrant during the investigation into Trump’s supposed collusion with the Russians. If the FBI lied then, they want to know, why should we trust them now?.

Besides, some top FBI agents were transparently hostile to Trump while they were investigating his supposed ties to Russia. So why should Republicans simply accept that the FBI was just doing its job, absent any political motives?

And my conservative friends — even those who don’t believe the election was “stolen” and who wish Trump would just go away — wonder if there’s one set of rules for Republicans and another for Democrats.

Merrick Garland will continue to persecute Trump loyalists...
Merrick Garland will continue to persecute Trump loyalists…

Why is Trump in the DOJ’s crosshairs, they ask, while Hillary Clinton, who also was accused of mishandling classified documents, barely got a slap on the wrist?

They remember that then-FBI Director James Comey rebuked Clinton for being “extremely careless” in using a private email address and server during her service as secretary of State. They remember that he raised questions about her judgment and said it was possible that hostile foreign governments had gained access to her account. They remember that he said a person still employed by the government — Clinton left the State Department in 2013 — could have faced disciplinary action for doing what she did. Yet he recommended no criminal charges against her, saying “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

So why, conservatives wonder, do we hear talk now — especially on liberal cable news channels — about getting an orange jumpsuit ready for the former president?

Double standard when it comes to justice

“Double standard” are two words I’ve been hearing a lot lately.

My friends also bring up the Russia collusion investigation that crippled much of the Trump presidency. Liberal politicians and their allies in the media couldn’t stop yapping back then about how Trump was somehow involved with the Kremlin.

So if they fell for the Russia collusion hoax — and perpetuated the “fake news” story — why, Trump fans wonder, should we give them the benefit of the doubt now that they’re convinced Trump is up to no good, yet again?

And if Trump supporters believe — as an intelligent friend of mine put it to me just the other day — that “the deep state” won’t rest until it “gets Donald Trump,” let’s not simply chalk it up to paranoia (although, between us, I’m tempted to do just that). After all, it was Hillary Clinton who talked about “a vast right-wing conspiracy” that was out to get her husband, then-President Bill Clinton.

Merrick Garland will continue to persecute Trump loyalists...
Merrick Garland will continue to persecute Trump loyalists…

If liberals see right-wing conspiracies, is it really so hard to understand why conservatives see “deep state” left-wing conspiracies?

Before this is all over, it’s possible, I guess, that we may find out Trump had nefarious plans for the documents he allegedly took with him when he left office. If he planned to sell those to the Russians, I’d be the first one yelling, “Lock him up!” But I doubt he would do anything that crazy. Using secret documents to get a YUGE advance to spice up a memoir he might be thinking of writing? With Trump, that’s possible.

What’s also possible, though, is that the raid was legal but not necessary and that, who knows, maybe it was politically motivated, as Trump fans believe.

I don’t have enough information to know if Trump is a victim of the Biden administration — or if everything is on the up and up. But I do know you can have contempt for someone and still leave open the possibility that he’s being treated unfairly.

Trump supporters may very well turn out to be way off-base in what they think motivated the raid at Mar-a-Lago. Just because you’re paranoid, as the saying goes, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

At absolute least, it just might mean you have a reason to be paranoid.

Rep. Matt Gaetz is #1 target of new

Lyle Mazin, a criminal defense attorney who represents a witness in the case, told JournoNews that the quiet should not be misconstrued as reluctance on the part of Roger Handberg, a federal prosecutor who led the local team conducting the investigation and now leads the Florida Middle District U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“He’s methodical. He doesn’t let anything go,” Mazin said. “If you’re going after a monster, you have to get it right—especially when you have a bunch of Trump supporters who’ll come after you.”

No one who spoke to JournoNews believes that the Gaetz probe was closed, and defense attorneys for witnesses and subjects who have recently enjoyed a quiet season said they expect to hear from prosecutors again. Some have struck agreements for advance notice of charging decisions.

A Gaetz spokeswoman did not return a request for comment. Gaetz flatly denies all allegations of wrongdoing.

A lawyer for one person already charged in the case told JournoNews that, in his experience, the prosecutors have “always been tight on the timeline.”

“They only strike when the case is tightly built, unfortunately,” this lawyer said.

That day, if it comes, is likely still months off. Two attorneys said prosecutors will take extreme steps to avoid the appearance of interfering with the midterms, and expected any announcements involving Gaetz would likely come several weeks after the November election.

One bizarre turn in the Gaetz saga ended Monday after a federal judge handed down a five-year prison sentence to Stephen M. Alford, a Florida man who attempted to defraud the Gaetz family. Alford somehow caught wind of the sex trafficking probe and promised Gaetz a presidential pardon, which Alford knew he could not deliver, if the family would shell out $25 million to allegedly spring a U.S. hostage held in Iran.

The investigation into Gaetz himself is only one item in an expanding queue. The probe of Greenberg alone has uncovered so many layers of public corruption in Central Florida that investigators have had to peel them apart one by one: illicit real estate dealsembezzlement of federal COVID-19 paycheck assistance; a local Republican scheme to run “ghost” candidates; a public corruption plot involving a number of powerful state figures; and ultimately the sex trafficking investigation involving the congressman himself.

In late 2020, while Greenberg was angling for a presidential pardon, he wrote a confession letter—obtained exclusively by JournoNews—detailing the way Gaetz would use him as a middleman to pay for sex with young women and at least one underage girl. Greenberg’s non-public Venmo payments—also obtained exclusively by JournoNews—reflected that arrangement. In one example, Gaetz paid his buddy $900, writing in one memo field, “hit up ___,” using a nickname for the formerly underage girl, who by then had just turned 18.

Greenberg was charged with trafficking that teen in August 2020. JournoNews confirmed that the FBI opened its investigation into Gaetz the same month.

After confessing to the trafficking a minor charge last May, Greenberg struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors in Orlando. Since then, investigators have been using the information he shared to target his accomplices one at a time.

In May, the region’s state attorney criminally charged Seminole County Republican Party chair Ben Paris and two others for hatching a scheme to run a non-existent “ghost” candidate. The operation drew votes away from Democratic candidate Patricia Sigman and propelled Republican candidate and Gaetz ally Jason Brodeur into the Florida state senate. (The Gaetz campaign donated to Brodeur months after the victory.) On Tuesday, state prosecutors filed documents in court indicating that Greenberg was going to be a witness in the trial, which starts Monday.)

In January, Handberg’s team of local federal prosecutors secured a guilty plea from a tag-along to the alleged Gaetz-Greenberg underage sex trafficking: a former radio shock jock and Greenberg associate named “Big Joe” Ellicott. Ellicott revealed intimate knowledge of the sexual crimes in text messages exclusively obtained by JournoNews. He was also allegedly present at a pivotal moment when Greenberg phoned the congressman to let him know that one of the teens they’d allegedly paid for sex was underage, JournoNews previously reported.

Weeks before that, Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend testified before the grand jury, reportedly under an immunity deal. The ex-girlfriend, considered a witness to possible obstruction charges against Gaetz, reportedly feared that the teen at the center of the probe had taped her in conversations with Gaetz and other women in Dec. 2020—around the time federal agents seized both her phone and the congressman’s.

In Nov. 2021, two months before Gaetz’s ex testified, Handberg’s team indicted two Greenberg associates for fleecing an investor out of $12 million in a real estate fraud scheme, yet another example of the.many corruption cases bogging down investigators.

Two high-ranking prosecutors at the Department of Justice’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.—Todd Gee and Lauren Britsch—have led the Gaetz portion of the investigation, according to sources who have interacted with them. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Orlando—Roger Handberg, Jennifer Harrington, and Amanda Daniels—continue to investigate local elements of overlapping crime rings.

For some involved in the case as witnesses or potential targets of the larger sex trafficking investigation, it’s been months since they’ve heard from prosecutors. A Gaetz-Greenberg associate who was allegedly involved in drug-fueled sex parties has not heard from the federal grand jury in nearly a year, according to a person familiar with his situation. A key witness who knew about the underage sex trafficking and testified before that grand jury has been in the dark for months, according to another person familiar with her situation.

“This is the most quiet this whole deal has been,” said one witness who first alerted the Secret Service to potential criminal behavior by the congressman.

The calm is starting to frustrate more than a dozen witnesses and attorneys who represent people at odds with Gaetz or Greenberg, although most said they remain hopeful.

“We know for a fact that there are dozens of other actors who were involved in drug-fueled sex parties with underage girls and other criminal financial schemes. If at the end of the day only two or three people are held to account by the feds, that would be a real miscarriage of justice and transparency,” said David Bear, an Orlando attorney who has advised several people who would consider themselves victims of Greenberg’s abuse of power while in office.

In another signal of the investigation’s scope and progress, three sources told JournoNews that prosecutors turned their attention to Tallahassee this spring. According to the sources, this previously unreported action involved interviews with possible witnesses and subjects in connection to another spoke of the Gaetz case—an alleged public corruption scheme to influence marijuana policy, said to involve state officials.

Gaetz is also reportedly part of that inquiry. There, federal prosecutors with the DOJ’s public integrity unit are reportedly examining whether a group of men provided gifts including marijuana and prostitutes during a 2018 trip to the Bahamas in exchange for political favors.

Overall, the limited amount of public prosecutorial action has—after an explosive two months of headlines last year—left many outside observers curious, confused, and skeptical.

Some, like Mark Lombardo, are annoyed. The Vietnam veteran and FedEx executive lost against Gaetz in the Republican primary on Tuesday. He told JournoNews that the sex trafficking investigation against the congressman “played a factor” in his decision to file campaign paperwork in June, and believes an indictment would have saved him a million dollars in campaign spending.

“If you’re asking me whether I’m frustrated, of course I am,” Lombardo said. “I thought he’d be long gone… the wheels of justice don’t grind very fast.”