What Matt Gaetz’s Legal Lineup Tells Us About His Troubles
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While the federal sex crime investigation against MP Matt Gaetz (R-FL) didn't lead to the explosive headlines it made when the news first broke in late March, the case shows no signs of slowing down.
Legal experts told The Daily Beast, the perceived lull is nothing out of the ordinary and can be attributed to a number of factors - including a variety of charges that investigators could investigate. While Gaetz and his allies like to interpret the lack of charges as a sign of innocence, the delays might as well indicate that the charges that could get on the spit are extremely grave and complex.
And if you're looking for some clue as to how seriously Gaetz himself takes the prospect of prosecution, look no further than the high-profile legal team the beleaguered Florida man put to his defense.
This team consists of a trio of powerful trial attorneys based in New York City, well outside the boundaries of the Florida Central District, where the Department of Justice is conducting the investigation.
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Gaetz is represented personally by Marc Mukasey, who has defended the Trump Organization in several high-profile disputes, and Isabelle Kirshner, partner at Clayman & Rosenberg LLP. Kirshner is a senior Manhattan criminal defense attorney who also represented former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman after several women accused him of physical assault.
Regardless of this, the Gaetz campaign - friends of Matt Gaetz - also looked north when they hired the New York-based trial attorney Marc Fernich in June. Fernich's client list includes child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, and convicted sex trafficker Keith Raniere, who led the NXIVM cult. While Fernich is familiar with sexual offense cases, he has no experience with campaign finance law.
The assembled team appears to reflect the self-proclaimed Florida man's politics, personality, and PR strategy.
On the political side, Mukasey, himself a former federal prosecutor, has earned a reputation as a lawyer for high-profile conservatives and MAGAworld members. He has represented the Trump Organization and Trump family members on a number of cases, including the ongoing criminal and civil investigations in New York. Mukasey is also serving as defense attorney for Ken Kurson, a friend of Jared Kushner, who has received a presidential pardon from Trump but is currently fighting in New York against state charges related to alleged espionage of his ex-wife.
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However, the Daily Beast reported last week that Mukasey was less active in Trumpland around the time he signed with Gaetz. And this month he officially retired as Eric Trump's attorney on the NYAG civil investigation.
Kirshner, a former Manhattan assistant attorney and the only woman on the crew, holds a lower public profile but has had impressive records over decades of practice, including defending high-profile men against sexual misconduct charges.
Her most notable clients in the field include Robert Hadden, the disgraced former Columbia University gynecologist accused of sexually abusing a number of patients, including Evelyn Yang, the wife of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Kirshner also represented former NYAG Eric Schneiderman, who resigned in 2018 on allegations of physical assault by several women. However, prosecutors declined to bring charges, citing statute of limitations and "flaws" in the law.
Tristan Snell, a former New York assistant attorney general, told The Daily Beast that the listing suggests the congressman "awaits trial."
"It looks like a scorched earth approach," Snell told The Daily Beast. “They're all big lawyers out of town. If your goal is to solve something, you usually hire the best criminal attorney in the county, someone who is a regular there and has a good working relationship with that US attorney general. But these lawyers can go there and burn the building down and not have to worry about them coming back the next day. "
Former federal attorney Jill Wine-Banks shared this interpretation.
“The fact that he is hiring litigators would indicate that they are preparing for a trial, not a trial. But it's not uncommon for a trial attorney to go beyond a DOJ prosecutor to plead on behalf of his client, ”she said. "Still, in my experience, I can't imagine a time when a decision was made not to bring charges about a meeting."
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Wine-Banks added that Gaetz still has to hire a local attorney, "someone with a connection to the prosecution who can convince them". She also found that defending outside the city was “expensive”.
Another former federal attorney, Barb McQuade, a practice professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said she agreed that "aggressive attorneys from out of town are suggesting a 'scorched earth' strategy."
"It can be effective in court of public opinion, but rarely effective in court," said McQuade.
Gaetz has reportedly faced a range of criminal charges, including sex trafficking in minors, obstruction of justice, campaign funding violations and a widespread political influence program. The investigation grew out of the indictment against his self-proclaimed "wingman," Joel Greenberg, former Seminole County tax collector, who pleaded guilty to a number of charges in May, including sex trafficking the former teenager at the center of the Gaetz investigation.
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With this plea, Greenberg concluded a cooperation agreement with the government that could get Gaetz into trouble. On the day Greenberg made the plea, his lawyer told reporters, "I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very well today."
Gaetz completely rejects the allegations. And, as he often notes, he has not been charged with a crime. A spokesperson declined to comment on this article as it cited a policy not to discuss lawyers or legal strategy.
A lawyer familiar with the investigation told The Daily Beast, however, that Gaetz's defense team is exposing not only the gravity of the allegations but also the scope of the investigation.
"This is a seated Congressman and they will fight anything by any means," said the lawyer.
"You have to keep in mind that a number of crimes are being investigated here," the lawyer continued. “There's the [alleged] sex trafficking, prostitution, obstruction of justice, and the Public Integrity Division of the [Justice Department] has an even bigger case with the political influence and the marijuana stuff. And on top of that, it also seems to be campaign funding. "
The campaign funding dimension is a recent development.
While it was previously reported that the campaign paid Fernich $ 25,000 for "legal advice," it was not known what that work was for. But a person familiar with the matter has confirmed to The Daily Beast that Fernich is representing the campaign in connection with the Justice Department investigation. However, while Fernich has experience representing famous unpopular clients in tight-rope litigation, including sexual offenses, he has no experience in campaign finance law.
CNN reported in April that federal agencies are investigating Gaetz's possible use of campaign funds in connection with travel and other expenses for the women. And The Daily Beast reported in May that Gaetz tapped his donors to pay for a hotel room in a 2019 fundraiser in the Orlando area that allegedly used cocaine with an escort. Fernich's formal onboarding by the campaign in June suggests that Gaetz is taking seriously the prospect of campaign funding violations.
The firm's website promotes Fernich's style and eye for "subtle, novel, and creative arguments that other lawyers may miss," claiming that such arguments "can turn seemingly hopeless cases into potential winners, the difference between victory and defeat." turn off".
Apart from the Gaetz campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission, no federal political committee paid Fernich for legal services.
The website currently lists "Friends of Matt Gaetz - Campaign Committee for U.S. Congressman" as customers, the fourth in the marquee after the Mafia boss of the Gambino family John Gotti, El Chapo and Epstein. All three were convicted. Raniere, who was sentenced to 120 years imprisonment for sex trafficking last year, receives the next bill after the Gaetz campaign.
Wine-Banks called Fernich's election in the campaign "hilarious," but noted that defense attorneys specialize in gymnastics. "You have to become an expert on certain things right away," she said.
McQuade said Fernich's choice suggests that the campaign is mostly about presenting a bellicose image.
“Clients often hire attorneys based on recommendations from others or a reputation for being aggressive, even though the attorney has no experience of the relevant subject or practice in another jurisdiction,” she noted, nodding to Fernich. "In situations like this, I sometimes think that the purpose of representation is more public relations than effective representation in court."
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Another attorney familiar with the investigation told The Daily Beast, “I wouldn't be surprised that Greenberg's verdict is being postponed until the Gaetz matter is settled. Not just an indictment, but through a trial. "
Snell said Gaetz's legal line-up coincides with his combative response to initial reports of the investigation this spring.
"Given the attitudes of these attorneys, I think he could take an aggressive approach to try to destroy the prosecution's credibility, maybe turn the tables and bring them to justice," Snell said. He added that Gaetz could afford to be "a bit more antagonistic" during the investigation phase by hiring top lawyers in Orlando, where the case is being handled. Gaetz is also not poisoning his own well, stressed Snell, since his Panhandle convention district is several hours to the west.
Snell also noted that "Gaetz‘ Instinct "reminded him of former President Donald Trump - who fought back with hyperbolic blackmail charges, a" Deep State "conspiracy and politically motivated indictment.
In a comment day after the investigation became known, Gaetz called President Joe Biden's attorney general by name.
"While I am sure that some partisan crooks in the Justice Department of [Attorney General] Merrick Garland want to pervert the truth and the law in order to persecute me, I will not be intimidated or blackmailed," wrote Gaetz. (The investigation into Gaetz reportedly opened last summer under Trump-appointed AG Bill Barr.)
Commenting on the tactic, Snell noted, "To a criminal, law enforcement feels like blackmail."
Gaetz, who sits on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee charged with overseeing the agency that confiscated his phone last December under an arrest warrant, has since routinely complained that he is the target of a deep state attack. And while he's scaled back that rhetoric a bit, recent press releases from unnamed defense attorneys on the case suggest the Gaetz team will attempt to slander the characters of the two star witnesses in the case - Greenberg and the ex-teenager - regardless of one possible confirmation proof.
But although Gaetz may be satisfied with his top-class lawyer, the hiring process did not go completely smoothly.
Two weeks before the campaign hired Fernich, it had kept DC company Zuckerman Spaeder for the same dollar amount - $ 25,000. But that relationship seems to have died on the vine.
A permanent spokesman, asked for comment on Wednesday, told The Daily Beast that "Zuckerman Spaeder is not representing Congressman Gaetz individually or his campaign."
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