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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Matt Gaetz’s travel records don’t do what they claim to do

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It’s a horrible time to be Rep Matt Gaetz, following the revelations in the New York Times Last week, the Republican congressman from Panhandle from Florida came under federal investigation for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old girl and traveling with her. Gaetz has confirmed he is under investigation but denies the allegations.

According to Times report, Investigators believe Gaetz and disgraced Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg – who was indicted for sex trafficking last August – have asked women they meet online “to meet at certain times and places , often in Florida hotels, and would tell them how much money they were willing to pay.

Gaetz called the allegations a blatant distortion of his playboy days. “I certainly, in my single days, provided for the women I dated,” Gaetz told Axios. “You know, I paid for the flights, the hotel rooms. I have been, you know, generous as a partner.

“The New York Times tells a story I traveled with a 17 year old woman which is presumably false ”, Gaetz Tucker Carlson told Fox News Last week. “People can look at my travel records and find that it isn’t.”

But, in fact, ordinary people cannot take a look at Gaetz’s personal or professional travel records and see anything that would “verifiably” exonerate him.

If the congressman had paid for the women’s travel expenses with his own money, this information would only be accessible to law enforcement. Investigators could look at airline flight manifests and hotel records and try to match them with Gaetz’s personal credit card and bank statements, but these are private records.

The Department of Justice would examine the Florida Republican’s potential use of campaign funds for personal expenses but, again, Gaetz’s filings with the Federal Election Commission do not exonerate or necessarily incriminate him. .

If Gaetz used campaign funds to pay for the travel expenses of the women he dated, that would be illegal. “We’re talking about what’s called personal entertainment – hotel rooms when you’re not campaigning, dinners to take women on dates – that would be personal use, and it would be misuse of. campaign money, ”says Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert in campaign finance regulation.

Yet even if Gaetz had misused campaign funds, it would not necessarily be obvious from simply reading the documents filed by the FEC. All members of Congress travel extensively, so it’s no surprise that the Friends of Matt Gaetz campaign discloses payments to airlines, hotels and other travel agencies.

In addition, this publicly available information tends to be extremely vague and opaque. You can see an expense for a hotel, for example, but you have no way of telling who stayed there or, more importantly, why.

“So it’s not entirely clear what he’s referring to when he talks about travel records,” says Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center. “If he’s referring to the FEC reports from his campaign, those really don’t tell you much about where he was going or when and who was traveling with him.”

In addition, the campaigns are essentially based on the honor system to categorize expenses correctly. But, as Zach Everson pointed out last week in his 1100 Pennsylvania newsletter, Gaetz’s campaign has a history of mistakes. For example, five of the eight disbursements at the Trump International Hotel Washington DC last summer had to be changed after being initially misclassified or omitted altogether.

Everson noted a series of accommodation charges at the former president’s hotel at the end of July 2020 that appeared extremely low – in the range of $ 210 to $ 265, or about half the base rate. of the Trump Hotel. “The RNC was in town,” Everson says. “The prices were outrageous. There’s no way any ordinary of us could just book a room at the Trump Hotel and get it at that rate.

Even so, it would not be unusual or illegal for Trump Hotels to give Gaetz a discounted hotel rate. But if that is what happened, the congressman’s campaign should have listed it as a contribution. “It was then, after contacting Gaetz’s office, that they ended up putting those expenses back into meal costs instead of accommodation costs,” says Everson.

Even a cursory examination of the Gaetz campaign’s FEC filings reveals multiple examples of miscategorized expenses – for example, an invoice for Delta Air Lines labeled as “accommodation” instead of “airfare” – but sloppy record keeping is not a crime either.

The FEC has limited resources, Briffault points out. “They focus less on punishment than on correction,” he says. “I mean, there have been enforcement actions on occasion, but they’re difficult to bring because the law is written in such a way that it makes it difficult to violate.”

In a rambling editorial on the right Washington Examiner over the weekend, Gaetz wrote that he “never, ever paid women for sex.” Still, he apparently felt it was necessary to coach his dates on what to say. “Should someone find out about his relationships,” according to the New York Times, “Sir. Gaetz told the women to say he paid for hotel rooms and dinners as part of their dates.

DOJ investigators are almost certainly looking into whether Gaetz’s travel records match his encounters with women involved in the investigation. “The FEC usually allows candidates to pay for the travel expenses of their spouse or, in some cases, their children, as family members are often part of the campaign,” says Fischer. “But you know, it’s different with a girlfriend or a date that you only engage with as part of a non-election campaign.”

Gaetz Washington Examiner Editorial denounced “DC swamp” and “Merrick Garland Justice Department supporters crooks” without mentioning one key fact: It was actually Bill Barr’s Justice Department that initiated the federal investigation against him.

And it seems obvious that Gaetz has known for months that he is in legal danger. Yesterday evening the New York Times Another bombshell revealed: Gaetz – arguably the most pro-Trump of all House Republicans – had requested and been denied a blanket preventive pardon in Trump’s final days in power.

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