Newly revealed text messages shed light on how Matt Gaetz's wingman could bring about his downfall

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Newly revealed text messages shed light on how Matt Gaetz's wingman could bring about his downfall
Rep. Matt Gaetz.Getty Images
  • Gaetz's office has repeatedly cast doubt on the credibility of his former wingman Joel Greenberg.
  • But text messages show that Greenberg may have receipts to back up his allegations against Gaetz.
  • "I would not feel really comfortable if I was anyone that had committed a crime with [Greenberg] right now," a former FBI agent told Insider.

Since it surfaced that Rep. Matt Gaetz's former wingman Joel Greenberg was cooperating with prosecutors in a wide-ranging sex-trafficking investigation, Gaetz has zeroed in on skewering Greenberg's credibility as a witness for the government.

But on Friday, a Daily Beast report indicated that Greenberg may have receipts to back up his claims.

"This is not good news for Matt Gaetz," Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI agent who served as the lead agent in the government's case against the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, told Insider.

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The text messages detailed in the story do not feature Gaetz. They were between Greenberg and his friend Joe Ellicott, who previously worked for Greenberg when he was a Florida tax collector.

According to the report, the texts were exchanged on the encrypted messaging app Signal and with a disappearing time of 30 seconds. But Greenberg took screenshots of the messages, in which he and Ellicott expressed fear that they and others in their circle could face criminal charges for having sex with a minor. Ellicott has not been charged with a crime and did not respond to The Daily Beast's requests for comment.

While Gaetz was not a participant in the conversations outlined in the story, legal experts said the existence of the screenshots could spell trouble for the embattled lawmaker as he continues to cast doubt on Greenberg.

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"If Greenberg has texts between himself and Ellicott, it's certainly feasible he has other evidence and was savvy enough to take screenshots of those texts," Ebadi said.

"It seems to follow that he may have kept all the evidence that he may have needed to use for leverage," she added. "I would not feel really comfortable if I was anyone that had committed a crime with him right now because he's kept files on people, potentially, which could be very damning and very useful to prosecutors."

Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, echoed that view.

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"Greenberg was thinking four steps ahead of Matt Gaetz," he told Insider, adding that the fact that Greenberg kept records of his conversations "absolutely bolsters his credibility."

"You can't cross-examine a screenshot," he said, referring to the text messages. "Greenberg got himself an insurance policy."

Gaetz has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing. His spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on this story.

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It's routine practice for investigators to search for additional evidence - like electronic records, emails, and financial documents - to corroborate witness testimony. That's especially true for a witness like Greenberg, who was charged with nearly three dozen felonies and pleaded guilty earlier this week to six of those counts, including carrying out the sex-trafficking of a child.

"The fact that Greenberg has screenshots of his conversations with someone else, in which they talked about their unlawful activities, that certainly helps his credibility with the feds," Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who worked on drug and human-trafficking cases, told Insider.

"This is an admitted felon and someone who's going to be a convicted sex offender," he added. "Prosecutors have to make sure that he's cooperating and being truthful, not just saying what they want to hear to get a reduced jail sentence."

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As far as the text screenshots go, Ebadi said, "it makes Greenberg's statements more credible when he has proof."

Newly revealed text messages shed light on how Matt Gaetz's wingman could bring about his downfall
Rep. Matt Gaetz at a rally against Rep. Liz Cheney on January 28, 2021 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

'The way you work your way up to the bigger fish is that you cooperate up'

The investigation into Gaetz centers around whether he violated federal sex-trafficking laws. According to The New York Times, he's suspected of having had sex with someone in 2019 who was 17 years old. That same person was involved in the sex-trafficking count against Greenberg.

The Daily Beast previously reported that Greenberg also put it in writing that he and Gaetz had paid for sex with a minor. Greenberg sent the letter to the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone in a last-ditch bid to obtain a pardon from President Donald Trump in the weeks before he left office in January. And as he did with Ellicott, Greenberg also took screenshots of his conversations with Stone, who has also previously been convicted on felony charges.

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Ellicott's name surfaced recently after Politico reported that he was named in a federal grand-jury subpoena that investigators sent to another person.

Along with Ellicott, the subpoena mentioned Gaetz, Greenberg, and former Florida state Rep. Halsey Beshears, who knew Gaetz from their time in the Florida statehouse. Beshears also traveled with Gaetz to the Bahamas in 2018, a trip that investigators are scrutinizing as part of their sex-trafficking probe.

"The way you work your way up to the bigger fish is that you cooperate up," Ebadi said. "So the feds got Greenberg and they could have cooperated him against Ellicott. If they get Ellicott, they might use him to get to Beshears, who they could use, in turn, to get to Gaetz. Taking that sort of path up would not be abnormal at all, and I think it's fairly reasonable."

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Flipping witnesses to testify against someone higher up in importance is a standard prosecutorial tactic. And if a case like this ends up going to trial, Ebadi said, "when all these people are saying the same thing, that's a lot more powerful, believable testimony than just that of one cooperator who's a convicted felon."

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