Matt Gaetz Jokingly Compares Scandal to Earmarks

Matt Gaetz Jokingly Compares Scandal to Earmarks

Matt Gaetz

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images.

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) “wingman” may have signed a plea agreement in the federal case that is broadly rumored to involve Gaetz, but the possibility of pending criminal prosecution didn’t seem to put a damper on the Florida Congressman’s mood Saturday, as he spoke to a crowd of Trumplican faithful in Strongsville, Ohio, even cracking jokes about the looming scandal.

NBC News national political reporter Henry Gomez was in Ohio to cover the event, and quoted a segment from Gaetz’s keynote speech where he jokingly described the sexual misconduct allegations involving him “as benign as legislative earmarks.”

“I’m being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors,” Gaetz said at the Ohio Political Summit, a gathering sponsored by the Strongsville GOP in suburban Cleveland. “Yet, Congress has reinstituted a process that legalizes the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that’s the corruption.”

Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg signed a much-anticipated plea agreement this week, pleading guilty to 6 out of the 33 charges against him, for a broad-ranging set of sordid schemes that included misappropriation and theft of taxpayer funds, illegally accessing Florida’s database of driver’s license data, stalking and harassing a political opponent, and sex trafficking, including with at least one underage girl.

Greenberg is due in a federal court in Orlando on Monday morning, where the plea will be officially entered, 27 of the counts will be dropped, and Greenberg will confirm that he has agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors, including testifying and providing evidence.

It’s that last part that many believe spells trouble for several of Greenberg’s Florida Republican pals, including Gaetz. Greenberg’s admissions in the plea agreement include expressly stated that he paid for sex with an underage girl, gave her illegal drugs, and “introduced the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts” with her. The identity of those “other adult men” is not revealed in the plea agreement, a standard practice according to Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, but the generous terms of Greenberg’s plea make it likely that he was able to give the feds some highly significant information as a bargaining chip.

Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing and has not yet been charged with any crime. He was all smiles in the photos and videos posted from the Ohio event Saturday, which was organized by the Strongsville GOP as the “2021 Ohio Political Summit.”

Just in case Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-WY) recent ouster from House GOP leadership didn’t make it clear, former President Donald Trump remains a major influence over the party, with the organizers of this rally making it clear which Ohio Republicans remain  on Team Trump which ones don’t.

Republicans who have faced scorn from the base for radical actions like following state and federal law and refusing to promote baseless claims of election fraud were listed on the program as having “declined” to attend. One example is Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH), who has been slammed by his fellow Republicans for accepting the 2020 election results and what they view as an overly cautious approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

Strongsville’s own congressional representation, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), was among those who declined to share a stage with Gaetz. Gonzalez, one of the few House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, posted a tweet during the event that condemned child exploitation, a comment that many interpreted as a slam on Gaetz.

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