Jared Moskowitz realized he had a big problem and needed to fix it.
As the head of Florida’s emergency management division, he was already responsible for responding to a pandemic and had to deal with someone in his office who may have leaked to a supplier of what he labeled coronavirus disinformation. The person who received the leaks was Rebekah Jones, a laid-off health department worker who drew national media attention for baseless allegations that Florida tampered with Covid-19 death dates.
For example, Moskowitz, a former state Democratic lawmaker appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis, said in an interview that in July he made the decision to reach out to Jones and befriend his office out of her crosshairs.
Moskowitz characterized his efforts as a deliberate attempt to keep Jones at bay, although the news POLITICO has received has a friendly demeanor and dialogue that belies any attempt at deception.
“With a platform of 400,000 Twitter followers, her reputation for bullying people on social media, and her disinformation campaign echoed by national media, she was more dangerous as an enemy than as a friend,” said Moskowitz. “All she did was disinformation.”
Moskowitz decided to speak out publicly after Jones forwarded his Twitter exchange to The Miami Herald. Jones also shared pictures of encrypted signal messages between her and Moskowitz that would have disappeared, but she took screenshots of the private exchanges and gave them to the newspaper as well. Moskowitz said he did not have any copies of it. It’s unclear why Jones shared her news.
Jones did not respond directly to Moskowitz’s claim in an email to POLITICO that he had reached out to her to try to control her efforts to spread what he called “disinformation”.
Instead, Jones said he was “an excellent resource in combating the conspiracy theories promoted by Ron DeSantis and his administration, which he referred to as’ Conspiracy Bro” and “Unrelenting” in our conversations. ” She added that he “provided invaluable information that was withheld from the public” and that his information “in my case ensures victory against the state”.
Moskowitz denied ever saying DeSantis was a “conspiracy frat brother” and pointed out that those words did not appear in any of the news releases.
Jones added that she was “skeptical as to why a politician so close to the governor, who defamed me just months earlier, reached out and has since seen that Jared is a person who likes to play both sides to himself.” to come out. ” no matter what. ”
The private messages between the two offer a rare behind-the-scenes look at how government policy, politics, and social media clashed during the pandemic in a state that caught the nation’s attention on how it handled its response to the coronavirus. DeSantis’ laissez-faire approach to bans and mask mandates has been celebrated by conservatives across the country as well as by many experts, democrats and experts who predicted dire consequences for the state.
At the center of this increasingly politicized debate about Florida’s response were Jones and Moskowitz, arguably one of the most important jobs in a disaster-prone state. Jones was highly respected within the anti-DeSantis resistance and eager for evidence to show Florida had sky-high death rates due to the governor’s rather permissive approach. However, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the Covid death rate in Florida remains in the middle of the states and below that of New York. despite what Jones said to the contrary.
The exchange between the two underscores the political and personal tensions that haunted Jones as her media profile increased, and included cases where a top DeSantis government official exposed some of the dramas the government publicly tried hard to keep silent.
Moskowitz, who resigned in February to spend more time with his family, remained well connected with Jones for months – even after a high-profile search of her home by law enforcement in early December as part of an investigation into a hacker attack on a state computer network. Jones, who managed the state’s Covid dashboard, has denied any wrongdoing. She was eventually charged by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with illegally gaining access to a computer system, a crime. The case remains open.
Jones also faces criminal charges for allegedly persecuting a former student at Florida State University, where Jones taught. In one self-published manifesto, Jones admitted to having sex with the student. She then lost her FSU job before embarking on designing the State Department of Health’s Covid dashboard, a job she was also fired from due to a dispute over the publication of data on the website. Jones has claimed he was forced to change dates to make the Covid situation in Florida look better she would later disavow or that independent media investigation to want found. Last week, however, the Florida Office of Inspector General announced that she met the basic criteria to file a whistleblower complaint against the state for their dismissal. The decision did not affect the merits of their allegations against the state.
As the contradictions and controversies surrounding Jones mounted, Moskowitz publicly defended Florida’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – even when the DeSantis government was criticized for relaxing Covid-related restrictions.
Throughout the pandemic, DeSantis has consistently slapped the media and anyone who questioned its strategy. Its administration was also sued multiple times Withholding Covid-19-related data, including information on coronavirus variants and weekly White House task force reports. The Miami Herald reported last year that the The governor’s office has put pressure on a reputable law firm to abandon a proposed lawsuit for information on positive tests in elderly care facilities.
At the same time, Moskowitz was communicating privately with Jones when she became a visible critic of the DeSantis government, which appeared frequently on national cable channels. Jones made DeSantis ’anger so much that he got it visibly agitated while I discuss them during one Press conference 2020 with then Vice President Mike Pence.
The news shows Moskowitz talking to Jones about ongoing human resources and issues within the state government – including the dismissal of the chief health department spokesman who Moskowitz said was appointed from “downtown” – a reference to the governor’s executive office.
Jones even talked about finding a new job in the emergency management department under Moskowitz.
“Giving me a prominent position at DEM would go a long way in regaining public trust,” she once wrote. She asked Moskowitz to link to her personal Covid-19 dashboard, which she set up after leaving the state government, and to tweet it.
Moskowitz said he first contacted Jones after she tweeted on July 16 July that his agency was “trying to cover up” the fact that 13 employees tested positive for Covid-19. But it wasn’t a cover-up; several news organizations were in the process of reporting the news, and Moskowitz said he realized he had a leak in the office.
So he decided to contact Jones privately via direct messages on Twitter, which led Jones to wonder about “the brass balls you must have to message me directly.”
Sometimes Moskowitz was a complement to Jones, and once he invited them over for coffee, although they never did.
“I know you know your stuff and are committed,” said Moskowitz, praising her 2020 appearances on CNN with Chris Cuomo.
Jones discussed with Moskowitz that his name would be published for a possible job in the administration of President Joe Biden, which Biden campaign sources identified as incorrect.
On the news, Jones railed against her former Health Department employers, claiming a top agency official was incompetent. Moskowitz did not comment directly on their criticism, but admitted that the department needed revision.
Moskowitz said his communication with Jones is like “hooking a fish”. And he said it worked. Jones has not criticized his agency and has given him a huge headache on social media, as it did with two respected epidemiologists who did it attacked on social media: Jason Salemi of the University of South Florida and Natalie Dean of the University of Florida, both of whom were criticized by Jones for ignoring the notion that Florida was deliberately hiding Covid-19 deaths.
Any unsubstantiated claims about Covid deaths in Florida were ultimately counterproductive for Democrats, Moskowitz said, as they built expectations that the state would be an utter disaster and it wasn’t, which benefited DeSantis.
“There was no doubt that this was an attempt to harm the governor,” Moskowitz told POLITICO. “But what they have done is the opposite: give him a national platform and attention that has made him a political juggernaut in his party.”
DeSantis’ new press officer Christina Pushaw also has a connection with Jones. Before Pushaw worked for the governor, he wrote a long story in the conservative Human Events publication detailing Jones’ legal troubles and changing stories entitled “The‘ Florida Covid-19 Whistleblower ’Saga Is A Big Lie”.
At the end of October, shortly before the 2020 elections, Jones Moskowitz asked about the political consequences of the pandemic.
“Do you think things will change: Post-election Florida pandemic? Will Ron DeSantis pull away from the madmen? ”She asked.
“You know the answer,” replied Moskowitz.
After he resigned, Moskowitz and Jones continued direct messaging, asking him to interview him for her book and asking for more information about his resignation as she was due to speak about it on CNN. Moskowitz declined to elaborate on it, saying he had never interviewed her.
In February, Jones was upset about being angry National Review Article that cited a quote Moskowitz gave to the POLITICO Florida Playbook, in which he warned Democrats not to fall for conspiracy theories.
“To think that I actually believed you were a good person,” Jones said in an online exchange to Moskowitz, complaining that she was attacked in the article and that Moskowitz did nothing to “correct it” .
“My statement is a general statement,” said Moskowitz. When Moskowitz made the comment to POLITICO, he insisted that it be general, not called Jones.
When asked why he didn’t stop communicating with Jones after her arrest, Moskowitz said he did – for about two months. But the two resumed their personal messages as Moskowitz prepared to announce his possible resignation from the state government.
“She had a dedicated following, and whether it was fact or fiction, they treated everything she said like it was in the Old Testament,” Moskowitz told POLITICO, adding that people who followed Jones did even more Developed “outlandish” theories. including the fact that the state hid the bodies of people who died of Covid-19.
“And I would say I would know if we hide bodies in warehouses,” said Moskowitz. “I am responsible for the camps.”
The exchange ended last month after Moskowitz, who is currently working between jobs, learned that the news had been shared with The Miami Herald. In one of the last messages, Jones reprimands Moskowitz for claiming he only hired her to dispel conspiracy theories.
“Why can’t you just tell the truth,” Jones wrote to Moskowitz, adding, “What game are you playing here because this is my life and you are trying to lie to help your political standing?”