TALLAHASSEE – Contested representative. Matt Gaetz and his close friend, the now-indicted former Seminole County Tax Collector, Joel Greenberg, sent a voicemail to Florida State MP Anna Eskamani almost two years ago, telling Greenberg how both men praised her for “beautiful qualities.” wanted to.
“We think you are the future of the Florida Democratic Party,” Gaetz (R-Fla.) Continues the voicemail.
Eskamani, a progressive Democrat contemplating running for governor, dug up the voicemail and made it available to POLITICO this week when news surfaced that Gaetz is being investigated over possible trafficking in a 17-year-old girl. Eskamani was a rising star among the Florida Democrats willing to call members of their own party, and that willingness to fight had earned the praise of conservatives like Gaetz.
“It was scarier than I remembered,” said 30-year-old Eskamani.
Eskamani first interacted with Greenberg in 2018 after getting into a Twitter battle with him over comments he made on social media about Muslims. This resulted in the two elected officials eventually meeting in what she described as an awkward encounter on social media this week.
The news from voicemail comes at a time when Greenberg, who is in custody on charges of sexual trafficking, identity theft, bribery, and cable fraud, is facing more than two dozen charges of corruption and sex trafficking, according to Gaetz. Gaetz, 38, In the meantime, he has done nothing wrong and the allegations have been linked to extortion to get money from his wealthy family.
Gaetz is the subject of an investigation by the US Department of Justice into whether he trafficked a 17-year-old girl. The New York Times reported Thursday that the federal investigation is focused on payments to women given money for sex. Gaetz’s office told the newspaper that he “completely rejects all obnoxious allegations”.
But as Gaetz builds a vigorous public defense, he finds few allies among the Florida Republicans, testament to his reputation for enjoying hurling verbal barbs and rhetorical fistfights with opponents before appearing on Fox News almost constantly party affiliation was present.
Before going to Congress in 2016, Gaetz worked at Florida House for six years. It was then that he built a deep bank of political allies and enemies of both political parties. Since bringing President Donald Trump’s coattails to national prominence, his shadow over his old political tamped ground has only grown as he forged a connection with Trump’s loyal political base.
Despite this deep attachment to Tallahassee and growing political clout, many of the state’s Republicans don’t know what to do with the damned allegations against Gaetz and avoid offering early political cover.
Most notable is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has seen a boom among Conservatives and is considered an emerging presidential candidate in 2024 should Trump skip another run. DeSantis and Gaetz became friends while DeSantis served in Congress, and he tapped Gaetz to help with his transition team after being elected governor in 2018.
“This is an ongoing Justice Department investigation. We have no comment,” said DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatric. DeSantis has held two press conferences outside of Tallahassee since the Gaetz News was published, but has not been asked about either.
Florida’s US Sens. Rick scott and Marco RubioBoth Republicans were also silent. Scott’s decision to sidestep the controversy is not surprising, given that the former governor and Gaetz – along with his father and former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz – had a controversial relationship at times. Scott was instrumental in denying Don Gaetz the presidency of the University of West Florida after he left office.
An elected Republican official who did not want to speak publicly about the younger Gaetz said few people jump to him Defense because the congressman has been disloyal to other Republicans over the years, invoking varying allegiances and endorsements.
His contact with Eskamani falls into this category. Gaetz’s voicemail to the then-freshman at Florida House would seem strange on paper itself, but Gaetz has long praised it on Twitter. Although Gaetz branded himself a staunch conservative, he admired brand politicians who oppose their party leadership, for which Eskamani has a reputation.
“Great meeting @AnnaForFlorida yesterday, “tweeted Gaetz in December 2018.” Although we don’t agree on how to get there, she wants the best for Florida. It’s easy to see why their campaign in central Florida was so energetic. “
In June 2019, less than a month before he and Greenberg sent the voicemail message to Gaetz praised Eskamani on Twitter as a reformer. “You want safer roads. I am watching your work closely. We may have different (often opposing views, but I admire that you have the heart of a reformer and that you work sincerely on your voters and values - no special interests, ”tweeted Gaetz. Eskamani never returned the overtures on Twitter and is on the platform gone in the past few days to ask him to resign.
Roger Stone, himself a longtime ally of Trump who knows Gaetz, came on Parler’s defense of Congressman, calling the allegations a “smear” designed to “destroy” the aspiring Conservative leader.
MP Alex Andrade, a Republican from Pensacola and friend of Gaetz who is seen as a potential successor to his congressional seat in northwest Florida, has also stayed by his side.
“I have no reason not to believe Congressman Gaetz,” Andrade said in an interview Thursday before the Times’ latest story was published.
Another Conservative Republican and arsonist – Rep. Anthony Sabatini – also quickly jumped to Gaetz’s defense when news of the investigation leaked. He tweeted earlier this week “DOJ and the Media is a seedy group of creeps – we’ve seen this movie before.”
Sabatini, who will run for Congress against the incumbent representative in 2022. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) But was able to change to a newly created seat, reinforced that in a message to POLITICO.
“Anyone can be included in an ‘investigation’ – anytime, for any reason, with no evidence,” Sabatini said. “The DOJ has also lost the trust of the American people.”
And on Tuesday, before any further details became known, Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, tweeted to Gaetz that he “should stay strong and keep fighting!”
Other Florida Republicans who have faced Gaetz’s harsh criticism, often directed through social media, have failed to mount as the news of his behavior mounts. But neither do they defend him.
“I’m not someone jumping on someone’s political grave,” said Rep. Chris Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater who got into an epic Twitter battle with Gaetz in January 2020 accusing the former Member of the State House creating a game that gave participants points based on whether they slept with an aide, lobbyist, or other lawmaker.
“Obviously, I’m not a Matt Gaetz fan,” said Latvala, the son of a senator who clashed with Matt Gaetz’s father. “I hope the allegations are false. Because if they are true, it means that a 17 year old is a victim. There is a lot that Matt Gaetz did in his time that I disagree with. This latest claim under investigation is quite sad. “
State Senate President Wilton Simpson, whom Gaetz derided as a potential Republican candidate earlier this year The state agriculture commissioner said, “I have no thoughts” when first asked about the news regarding Gaetz, although he then added, “Hopefully it didn’t happen.”
Matt Dixon contributed to this report.