Matt Gaetz's 'wingman' in sexcapades near plea deal, may flip on Trump fanboy

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Will pal rat out Matt?

“I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” said a lawyer for Joel Greenberg, the past buddy and co-carouser of the Florida Republican congressman.

Greenberg, indicted on charges including sex trafficking of a minor, is seeking a plea deal with federal prosecutors that could turn him into a cooperating witness implicating Gaetz, a high-profile ally and acolyte of former President Donald Trump. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, said Thursday at a federal court hearing in Orlando: “I expect this case to be resolved with a plea deal.” The prosecutor, Roger Handberg, agreed.

Federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg, a former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector, paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to multiple news outlets. Gaetz has denied the allegations and insists he will not resign his seat in Congress. He did not respond to a request from Politico for comment on Thursday’s courtroom developments in Greenberg’s case.

The two men have been allies in Florida Republican politics, and Gaetz described Greenberg to some acquaintances as his “wingman,” according to Politico. “Matt was never shy about talking about his relationship to Joel and the access to women that Joel provided him,” an acquaintance told The Washington Post. Both men would have sex with the women they recruited, people familiar with the matter told The New York Times.

Politico reported Tuesday that friends of the men said Greenberg introduced Gaetz to women Greenberg found through profiles on websites like Seeking Arrangement, featuring women looking for “sugar daddy” relationships with wealthy men. Gaetz, whose father made a fortune in the hospice business, has acknowledged that he sometimes paid for travel and other expenses of women he dated, but says he didn’t pay for sex.

Scheller said Greenberg’s cooperation with investigators likely would be contingent on whether it’s required by prosecutors to get a plea deal. “If someone signs a cooperation agreement, they are required to cooperate,” Scheller told reporters outside the courthouse.

Apart from the sex charges, Greenberg also is accused by the feds of stalking a political opponent and embezzling $400,000 from the Seminole County tax collector’s office.

Janison: Trump grip on GOP faces test

The ability of a former president for the first time to call his party’s shots from electoral exile entered a new testing phase this week, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

By signing off on new voting rules aimed to favor the GOP, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp set off raging charges of racism. For the most part, Republicans cheered and stood together against critics, including big corporations, who they dismissed as “cancel culture.” But now Trump calls that law too lame. “Georgia’s election reform law is far too weak and soft to ensure real ballot integrity,” Trump said in a statement calling Kemp a Republican in Name Only.

The bluster of Trump as a political boss isn’t just about boosting favorites and punishing those he sees as disloyal. It involves money too and shakedown-style tactics. The National Republican Congressional Committee is threatening donors in emails that if they opt out of recurring monthly donations, “We will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR.”

As usual, at least one member of Trump’s circle — Gaetz — is facing criminal investigation, which can help define who’s in and who’s out. Two other insiders — Long Island’s Rep. Lee Zeldin and Rudy Giuliani’s son, Andrew, a patronage employee of the Trump White House, are preparing to run for New York governor, although Trump is widely seen as toxic, having lost the state twice.

Biden launches gun-control push

Calling gun violence in the U.S. an “epidemic” and a “public health crisis,” President Joe Biden announced six executive actions Thursday aimed at combating mass shootings, including increasing the regulation of so-called ghost guns assembled from parts purchased online, reports Newsday’s Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it is an international embarrassment,” Biden said in a White House Rose Garden ceremony, where he addressed an audience of gun control activists which included parents who lost their children at school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut.

Biden calling his actions “just a start,” and urged Congress to pass more sweeping gun control legislation. They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers … but they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence,” Biden said. “Enough prayers. Time for some action.”

Biden also announced the nomination of a prominent gun control advocate, David Chipman, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Biden narrows targets on corporate taxes

Biden’s tax plan aims to stop the biggest companies that are profitable but have no federal income tax liability from paying no taxes to the Treasury Department. He would impose a 15% tax on the profits they report to investors. About 45 corporations would be affected, according to the Biden administration’s estimates, because it would be limited to companies earning $2 billion or more per year.

However, far fewer companies would be affected than in a plan Biden campaigned on last year. Then, the threshold was earning above $100 million a year, The Wall Street Journal reports. Many of them would still face sharply higher tax bills from the rest of the Biden agenda, which raises rates on domestic and foreign income.

Though Biden has said he is flexible on the 28% corporate tax rate he proposed, that level has an unlikely supporter: Gary Cohn, the Trump economic adviser who helped design the 2017 tax cut plan that cut the rate from 35% to 21%. “I’m actually OK at 28%,” Cohn told Yahoo Finance in an interview last year getting renewed attention. “The level we got to in our tax plan on the corporate side was actually a bit lower than I thought we needed to go,” he said.

Trump fave Zeldin runs for governor

Zeldin, one of Trump’s most steadfast allies among New York’s House Republicans, said Thursday he will run for governor, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.

Zeldin, of Shirley, launched his bid with an attack on Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for diminishing the state and a promise to bring it “back from the brink.” In a statement, Zeldin said, “I will bring the kind of relentless, fighting spirit toward helping to save our state that Andrew Cuomo only reserves for multimillion dollar self-congratulatory book deals, cover-ups, abuse and self-dealing.”

Zeldin, who visited the former president at Mar-a-Lago in March, did not mention Trump in his announcement. Democrats are prepared to remind voters in the state that Trump lost by 23 points of their connection. No Republican has won a statewide race since 2002.

“Lee Zeldin is a unrepentant Trump supporter, a proponent of the big lie that Joe Biden was not fairly elected and that the election was stolen,” said New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs.

Soaring costs for migrant minors

The Biden administration appears to be spending at least $60 million per week to care for the more than 16,000 migrant teenagers and children in shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, and those costs are expected to rise significantly over the coming months, The Washington Post reports.

With the 7,700 available beds in its network of permanent shelters filled, HHS is adding at least 10 large emergency facilities, creating 16,000 temporary beds for migrant children in convention centers, converted oil worker camps and on military bases. The cost of these emergency sites — approximately $775 per day per child according to HHS official Kenneth Wolfe — is more than 2½ times higher than the more-permanent shelters.

The U.S. continued to see a sharp increase in the number of migrants crossing the southern border in March, including a record of more than 18,800 unaccompanied children, Politico reported.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday’s Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday’s coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Investigators from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office took possession of financial records Thursday morning from the apartment of Jennifer Weisselberg, the former daughter-in-law of a top Trump Organization officer, The Washington Post reported. It’s another sign that Allen Weisselberg is a key focus of the ongoing criminal probe into the former president’s financial dealings. The Trump Organization has hired Ronald Fischetti, a veteran criminal-defense attorney, to represent it.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday backed the White House’s pitch to split its infrastructure plans into two packages — one emphasizing tangible assets like roads, bridges and broadband and another focused on “human” infrastructure, Roll Call reported. Democratic progressives want a bundled approach.
  • Georgia’s Republican legislators had Rudy Giuliani on their mind when they passed voting laws criticized as an effort to suppress Black turnout, according to the state’s lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan, who is also a Republican. Duncan, who parted ways with those in the GOP claiming massive fraud against Trump, told CNN the move “really started to gain momentum … when Rudy Giuliani showed up in a couple of committee rooms and spent hours spreading misinformation and sowing doubt.”
  • El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele refused to meet this week with a visiting senior U.S. diplomat, Ricardo Zuniga, over what Bukele sees as a pattern of slights against him by Democrats and the Biden administration, The Associated Press reported. Bukele has told aides that he won’t meet with any Biden officials until the U.S. softens criticism raising doubts about his commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence has signed a two-book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster. Two people in the publishing industry told CNN the contract is worth somewhere in the range of $3 million to $4 million.
  • A group of Republican senators led by Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz sent a letter to the Biden administration opposing a resumption of aid to the Palestinians until several conditions can be met to ensure funds won’t go to terrorists.
  • The Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters are among the far-right groups whose members were implicated in the Capitol insurrection, but the Washington Post reports there was another: Massachusetts-based Super Happy Fun America, which first drew national attention for organizing a 2019 Straight Pride Parade in Boston.