I’ve been stuck inside for the past few weeks with chronic pain difficulties. Yesterday, I got out for the first time in quite awhile, and I was happy to see that Spring has finally arrived in the Boston area. Forsythia is blooming along with cherry blossoms, and light green leaves are beginning to form on some trees. It gave me a good feeling, even though we still have some tough times ahead as a country. Still, we are rid of Trump and we finally have a president who is working hard to deal with the pandemic that has taken nearly 563 million deaths in the U.S. and 136.7 million worldwide.
Here’s the latest pandemic news and it’s not good:
The New York Times: U.S. Calls for Pause on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine After Rare Clotting Cases.
Federal health agencies on Tuesday called for an immediate pause in use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination.
All six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in critical condition.
Nearly seven million people in the United States have received Johnson & Johnson shots so far, and roughly nine million more doses have been shipped out to the states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C., said in a joint statement. “Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare.”
While the move was framed as a recommendation to health practitioners in the states, the federal government is expected to pause administration of the vaccine at all federally run vaccination sites. Federal officials expect that state health officials will take that as a strong signal to do the same. Within two hours of the announcement, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, advised all health providers in his state to temporarily stop giving Johnson & Johnson shots. New York State and Connecticut quickly followed suit.
All the things that could prolong the COVID-19 pandemic — that could make this virus a part of our lives longer than anyone wants — are playing out right in front of our eyes.
The big picture: Right now, the U.S. is still making fantastic progress on vaccinations. But as variants of the virus cause new outbreaks and infect more children, the U.S. is also getting a preview of what the future could hold if our vaccination push loses steam — as experts fear it soon might.
Driving the news: The British variant is driving another surge in cases in Michigan, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has resisted reimposing any of the lockdown measures she embraced earlier in the pandemic.
- Variants are beginning to infect more kids, even as schools are on the fast track back to reopening, making the pandemic “a brand new ball game,” as University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm recently put it.
- New research confirms that our existing vaccines don’t work as well against the South African variant.
Between the lines: This is a preview of the longer, darker coronavirus future the U.S. may face without sufficient vaccinations — one that many experts see as pretty likely.
Although the pace of vaccinations is still strong, there’s a growing fear that it’s about to slow down. In some parts of the country, particularly the South, demand for shots has already slowed down enough to create a surplus of available doses.
Read more at Axios.
The trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd continues in Minneapolis, but that didn’t stop another Minnesota police officer from killing another black man. Here’s the latest on the shooting of Daunte Wright and the protests that have followed.
The chain of events that ended with yet another fatal police shooting of a Black man in Minnesota began in what has become a typical tragedy — with a traffic stop for a minor infraction.
The man, Daunte Wright, 20, who died Sunday after a run-in with police in a suburb of Minneapolis, was driving an SUV with expired license plates, and he also ran afoul of a Minnesota law that prohibits motorists from hanging air fresheners and other items from their rearview mirrors.
“He was pulled over for having an expired registration on the vehicle,” Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said Monday. “When the officer went over, an item hanging from the rearview mirror was spotted.”
It was after that, Gannon said, that the officers discovered that a “gross misdemeanor warrant” for Wright’s arrest had been issued.
Minutes later, a gunshot rang out, and Wright joined the ranks of other Black motorists who have died after having been pulled over by police, a group that includes Philando Castile, 32, who was fatally shot in 2016 by a Minneapolis police officer after he was stopped for a broken taillight. His final moments were recorded in a powerful video.
Gannon said Monday that he believes the officer meant to pull a Taser in Sunday’s shooting but instead pulled her service weapon.
Demonstrators clashed with law enforcement officers in Brooklyn Center for the second night in a row Monday following the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old Black man by a police officer.
Protesters had been on hand throughout the day outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, but the scene escalated after the start of a 7 p.m. curfew across four Twin Cities metro counties instituted by Gov. Tim Walz.
About 300 people attended a separate, peaceful vigil for Daunte Wright earlier in the evening at the site of the traffic stop that ended with his shooting.
“Right now, this community, this city, this state, our nation, our country, our world is broken,” said the Rev. Jeanette Rupert, who also works as an ICU nurse and said she came to speak at the vigil before her night shift. “We have had the knees on our neck for so long.”
Coming amid the high-profile criminal trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s death, Wright’s fatal shooting in the suburb directly north of Minneapolis also ignited a clash late Sunday between demonstrators and law enforcement officers.
By shortly before 8 p.m. Monday, police began to warn demonstrators, who still numbered in the hundreds, that they were in violation of curfew. Officers began to move toward the fence in formation and issued orders to disperse.
Authorities fired multiple rounds of tear gas, along with rubber bullets and flash grenades. Protesters dispersed from areas hit by tear gas were regrouping and retaliating by throwing water bottles and launching fireworks. Later, lines of police in riot gear pushed groups of protesters away from the station. At a strip mall near the police station, looters broke into several businesses, including a Dollar Tree store where flames were later spotted.
At a 12:30 a.m. Tuesday news conference, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said that 40 people were arrested Monday night at the Brooklyn Center protest. Some were booked into the Hennepin County jail, some cited and released, he said. Several law enforcement officers suffered minor injuries from thrown debris; no protester injuries were reported, he said.
Brooklyn Center leaders were poised to fire the city’s police chief Monday evening, following the police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man Sunday afternoon that touched off a night of unrest in the city.
At an emergency afternoon meeting, the City Council voted to give authority over the police department to the mayor’s office and to fire City Manager Curt Boganey, who’d been with the city since 2005, Council Member Dan Ryan said during a virtual council workshop….
Wright’s death triggered confrontations with police and looting in the city of about 31,000, where most residents are people of color. Mayor Mike Elliott, who took office in 2019, is the first person of color to serve as mayor.
“We recognize that this couldn’t have happened during a worse time,” Elliott said at a news conference Monday. “We are all collectively devastated and we have been for over a year now by the killing of George Floyd.”
At a virtual council workshop, Council Member Kris Lawrence-Anderson said she voted to remove the city manager because she feared for her property and retaliation by protestors if she had voted to keep him.
“He was doing a great job. I respect him dearly,” she said. “I didn’t want repercussions at a personal level.”
In remarks Monday afternoon, President Joe Biden called Wright’s death “tragic” and urged “peace and calm.”
“There is absolutely no justification, none, for looting,” Biden said. “No justification for violence.”
Before I get to today’s news, here’s a little comic relief. This was in yesterday’s Boston Globe, but I can’t get past their rigid paywall. But I found the story at The Pest Control Daily: Boston Public Backyard used to have child alligators — sure, alligators — and other people fed them rodents. The “public backyard” is the Boston Public Garden, adjacent to the Boston Common. I had heard about cows grazing on the Common, but not about alligators in the Public Garden.
There are several newspaper articles from this period referring to the alligators who lived in a basin – or pond – near the entrance to Arlington Street amid a “magnificent” row of lilies. Reports vary, but for some time there were between three and four alligators on the site, strikingly complementing the many other exotic features of the public garden at the time.
A story in the September 19, 1901 issue of the Boston Post said three of the city’s alligators were given by “a Charlestown woman” who “became afraid of them and introduced them to the city of Boston.” The fourth alligator was given to the city by a man from Chelsea, though it’s just unclear why.
An article that appeared in an August 9, 1901 issue of the Boston Globe said the alligators – known as babies – belonged to William Doogue, the city’s superintendent for common and public reasons.
Doogue oversaw the public garden from 1878 to 1906, according to Friends of the Public Garden, a nonprofit advocating Boston Common, the public garden, and the nearby Commonwealth Avenue Mall and known for its exceptional green thumb….
The alligators have certainly rubbed some city dwellers the wrong way. But it wasn’t so much their presence that was annoying – people often huddled around the pool looking for them – it was how they were sometimes fed.
“Some objections to feeding live rats and mice to those in the public garden pond,” read the headline of the August Globe article.
The newspaper reported that in “warm weather” the alligators were put in the public garden and fed by park officials once a week….
“Live rats exposed to hungry alligators,” read a headline in the Boston Post on August 9, 1901. “The public garden exhibit attracts morbid interest from women and children.”
The article says, “The city doesn’t feed them in the summer … the city doesn’t have to” because “the alligators make their own living by entertaining the public”.
The story included an illustration of primitively dressed people gathered around a small pond-like structure and watched a man kneel to feed the alligators with the animals’ mouths wide open.
Apparently this was seen as a low-life activity. There is much more detail at the link about the feeding of the alligators. Apparently they were moved to the Franklin Park Zoo during the colder months, and their presence in the Boston Garden lasted for about 6 years.
White Supremacist News
Remember those neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us?” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was trending on Twitter all day yesterday after he parroted a white supremacist conspiracy theory that liberals are trying to replace white people with immigrants.
For decades, white nationalists have invoked the specter of nonwhite immigration, multiculturalism, and declining birthrates to argue for the existence of a vast conspiracy aimed at eliminating white populations as a dominant demographic. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson is distributing the language, grievances, goals, and inherent call to action of the conspiracy theory to massive audiences.
On the April 8 broadcast of Fox News Primetime, Carlson offered perhaps his most explicit justification yet for the core belief of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory: that a wave of “Third World” invaders is coming to replace you and reshape your environment, and that you, the audience, should do something about it.
The Fox News host claimed that “what’s true” is that “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” and no one should “sit back and take that.”
More from Media Matters: White nationalists praise Tucker Carlson’s full embrace of their “replacement” conspiracy theory.
White supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes explained what Carlson actually meant in his statements, lamenting that Carlson wasn’t more direct and theorizing that he probably had to dial it back in order to avoid consequences at Fox….
Other racist and extreme far-right media personalities and social media accounts also backed Carlson, celebrating him for broadcasting “what nationalists have been talking about for decades” and defending him against criticism.
Matt Gaetz Updates
The Washington Post: House opens ethics investigation into Florida Republican Matt Gaetz.
Click the link for more details.
Fred Grimm at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Scandal leaves Florida’s congressional provocateur with few friends.
His fellow congressional Republicans have risen as one to defend Matt Gaetz.
Oh, sorry. My bad. Make that two.
Jim Jordan of Ohio — Abbott to Gaetz’s Costello in their Capitol Hill clown act — came through for Matt. Sort of. After Gaetz denied allegations that he had been galivanting with escorts and even a 17-year-old girl, with allusions to orgies and illicit drug use, Jordan managed a four-word tweet: “I believe Matt Gaetz.” Which seemed an understated reaction from the likes of Jordan, whose usual outbursts have been unfettered by propriety, truth or the national interest.
You’d think the pugnacious Jim Jordan, of all people, would have come up with a more defiant defense of his fellow provocateur. But no.
Which left Marjorie Taylor Greene from Planet QAnon as his defender-in-chief. “Take it from me rumors and headlines don’t equal truth. I stand with @mattgaetz,” tweeted the Georgia congresswoman, a propagator of astounding untruths, slanders and conspiracy theories. Not sure that character references from the woman who suggested California wildfires had been ignited by Jewish space lasers can rehabilitate Gaetz’s mucky reputation.
Support was also slow coming from Mar-a-Lago, although Gaetz had been Donald Trump’s most outlandish congressional defender through two impeachments and an insurrection. Yet, the ex-president kept quiet in the week after The New York Times reported that the FBI has widened an investigation of former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg — who faces a slew of federal charges — to include his former best buddy and fellow philanderer. The Times said the FBI is looking into allegations that Greenberg and Gaetz arranged sexual trysts with paid escorts, including a 17-year girl. (Which Gaetz denies.)
It wasn’t until reports surfaced that, during Trump’s final days in office, Gaetz had sought a preemptive pardon for any federal charges that might come his way, that the ex-president finally said something. Not much, but something. His office issued a carefully worded, unTrumpian statement: “Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” adding, like an afterthought, “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
I just can’t get enough of Gaetzgate.
The Washington Post: Trump officials celebrated efforts to change CDC reports on coronavirus, emails show.
I’m going to focus on Covid-19 news today, because–despite the fact that 110 million Americans have been vaccinated–it looks like we are headed into a dangerous surge of new cases. Here’s the latest:
The number of new Covid-19 cases has plateaued at a “disturbingly high level,” and the US is at risk from a new surge, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Wednesday.
While lower than the peak earlier this year, there were still more than 61,000 new cases reported on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the lack of continued significant decreases in infections is a concern, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, particularly given the spread of variants.
“It’s almost a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase,” Fauci said, noting Europe is experiencing a spike much like the one experts worry about for the US.
The US is vaccinating people quickly, with just over 33% of the population — more than 109 million people — having received at least one dose of the vaccine and all 50 states committed to opening vaccinations to all adults by April 19.
Those vaccines may be behind the decrease in Covid-19 fatalities, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.
This is also concerning: Walensky says that the British variant of the virus is now causing most U.S. cases.
The New York Times: More Contagious Virus Variant Is Now Dominant in U.S., C.D.C. Chief Says.
A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in Britain has become the most common source of new infections in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. The worrisome development comes as officials and scientists warn of a possible fourth surge of infections.
Federal health officials said in January that the B.1.1.7 variant, which began surging in Britain in December and has since slammed Europe, could become the dominant source of coronavirus infections in the United States, leading to a huge increase in cases and deaths.
At that point, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at an all-time high. From that peak, the numbers all declined until late February, according to a New York Times database. After several weeks at a plateau, new cases and hospitalizations are increasing again. The average number of new cases in the country has reached nearly 65,000 a day as of Tuesday, concentrated mostly in metro areas in Michigan as well as in the New York City region. That is an increase of 19 percent compared with the figure two weeks ago.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, who warned last week that she felt a recurring sense of “impending doom,” said on Wednesday that 52 of the agency’s 64 jurisdictions — which include states, some major cities and territories — are now reporting cases of these so-called “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7.
More on the British variant:
B.1.1.7, the first variant to come to widespread attention, is about 60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates. The C.D.C. has also been tracking the spread of other variants, such as B.1.351, first found in South Africa, and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil.
The percentage of cases caused by variants is clearly increasing. Helix, a lab testing company, has tracked the relentless increase of B.1.1.7 since the beginning of the year. As of April 3, it estimated that the variant made up 58.9 percent of all new tests.
That variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling infection rates over all, leading some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing and other measures.
Doctors and hospitals are seeing more infections in young people.
After-school activities are creating clusters where coronavirus can spread among children, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know that these increases are due, in part, to more highly transmissible variants, which we are very closely monitoring,” Walensky said Monday at the White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.
The virus was linked to high school wrestling tournaments in Florida last December where 38 people tested positive, according to a CDC report published in January.
In Minnesota, the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 spread through Carver County with at least 68 cases linked to youth sport activities including hockey, wrestling and basketball, according to the Minnesota Department of Health….
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned about the spread of Covid-19 among children who participate in youth sports.
“We’re finding out that it’s the team sports where kids are getting together, obviously many without masks, that are driving it, rather than in the classroom spread,” Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Tuesday on “Good Morning America.” “When you go back and take a look and try and track where these clusters of cases are coming from in the school, it’s just that.
The New York Times: Is the U.S. heading for a new wave? The Upper Midwest may offer a hint.
As states lift restrictions and coronavirus variants spread, scientists and federal health officials have warned that a fourth surge of cases could arise in the United States even as the nation’s vaccination campaign gathers speed. The seeds of such a surge may now be sprouting in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast.
Michigan is in tough shape. New cases and hospitalizations there have more than doubled in the last two weeks, and the six metro areas in the United States with the greatest number of new cases relative to their population are all in Michigan.
Several other states in the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota and Illinois, have also reported significant increases in new cases and hospitalizations. And in the Northeast, New York and New Jersey have continued to see elevated case counts.
Illinois is seeing a spike in cases as well. The daily average for new cases there has jumped about 56 percent in the past two weeks, to about 2,832 a day. Hospitalizations have risen about 28 percent from two weeks ago. Wisconsin and North Dakota have also seen their average case counts jump 50 percent or more in the last two weeks.
Stat reports that Biden has so far declined to increase the number of vaccine doses available to Michigan, despite the precipitous rise in cases: Biden officials rebuff appeals to surge Covid-19 vaccine to Michigan amid growing crisis.
Amid Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation coronavirus surge, scientists and public health officials are urging the Biden administration to flood the state with additional vaccine doses.
So far, though, their plea has fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the federal government is sticking to a vaccine-allocation strategy that largely awards doses to states and territories based on their population. As a result, most jurisdictions are still receiving similar per-capita vaccine supplies, regardless of how many people there are getting sick — or how many excess vaccine doses they have.
Experts have cast a surge in Michigan’s vaccine supply as a critical tool in combating the state’s most recent Covid-19 crisis. The state is currently recording nearly 7,000 new cases per day, just shy of its all-time peak in December. Hospitalizations and deaths, which tend to lag a few weeks behind increasing case counts, are also on the rise.
“I would be surging a lot of vaccines to Michigan right now,” said Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “To me, this is a no-brainer policy, and I would be curious to hear why the Biden team hasn’t done this.”
During a media briefing on Wednesday, White House officials acknowledged that Michigan’s situation is dire. They gave no indication, though, that they would send additional vaccines there to help quell the surge, when STAT asked. They argued that it is too early in the national vaccine campaign to begin targeting supply based on case rates.
Read more at Stat.
From An Diamond and Fenit Nirappil at The Washington Post: ‘A moment of peril’: Biden sees infections climb on his watch.
David Axe at The Daily Beast: There’s One Truly Alarming Reason to Worry About the Latest COVID Surge—Even With Vaccines.
…the [current] surge—driven by the spread of dangerous new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a reckless rush by governors and mayors to end a year of mask mandates and social distancing rules—isn’t just an immediate threat to unvaccinated people.
It also represents a long-term danger to the whole country. More cases mean more opportunities for the novel coronavirus to mutate. And the more the pathogen mutates, the greater the chance it will evolve into an even deadlier variant—“lineage” is the scientific term—than even the ones we’re dealing with now.
It’s even possible that, given time and a certain critical mass of cases, SARS-CoV-2 could mutate into a lineage that can overpower our vaccines.
That’s the worst-case scenario—and potentially the biggest cause for concern as the spring surge spreads across the United States. “The greater the spread of the virus populations to new individuals, because of relaxation of social measures, the more the chances of new mutations,” Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at the Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research at the University of South Florida, told The Daily Beast.
If all this sounds like conjecture—it’s not. The steady mutation of the novel coronavirus over the 16 months since it first took root in China is a big reason America’s experiencing another surge.
Any given patient’s load of the virus mutates every two weeks, on average. Niema Moshiri, a geneticist at the University of California-San Diego, compared each case to a slot machine that an infection pulls twice a month. Jackpot is a new and deadlier lineage.
Now imagine tens of millions of Americans with active COVID infections, with each case pulling that handle every 14 days. The more gamblers, and the more time they have to gamble, the better chances of a big win for SARS-CoV-2. Our goal, Moshiri said, should be “to lessen the number of parallel slot machines we give to the virus.”
A few more related stories to check out:
The New York Times: Top Official Warned That Covid Vaccine Plant Had to Be ‘Monitored Closely.’ “An Operation Warp Speed report last June flagged staffing and quality control concerns at Emergent BioSolutions’ factory in Baltimore. The troubled plant recently had to throw out up to 15 million doses.”
David Corn at Mother Jones: Will the Public Ever Get a Full Accounting of Trump’s Disastrous COVID Response?
What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread.
What on Earth is going on with Matt Gaetz? The story just keeps growing stranger by the day. It all began with this New York Times story published on Tuesday: Matt Gaetz Is Said to Face Justice Dept. Inquiry Over Sex With an Underage Girl.
Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.
It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people.
The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said.
Then Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox and made everything worse for himself.
Aaron Rupar at Vox: Matt Gaetz’s disastrous Tucker Carlson interview, explained.
Hours after the New York Times broke the news that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking, he was given a platform by Fox News host Tucker Carlson to tell his side of the story. But Gaetz ended up botching the softball interview so thoroughly that Carlson ended up telling his millions of viewers it was “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
At various points during the interview, Gaetz — who denies the allegations — volunteered the existence of criminal allegations against him that aren’t yet part of the public record, brought up sexual misconduct allegations against Carlson that most of his viewers probably weren’t aware of, and went out of his way to involve Carlson in stories about his personal life.
“I can say that actually you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine — you’ll remember her — and she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that could face trouble,” Gaetz said. “So I do believe there are people at the Department of Justice that are trying to smear me. Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”
It sounds like he’s admitting he paid for travel and hotel rooms for a person he was dating, doesn’t it?
…more importantly than the bizarreness of the interview is the fact that Gaetz didn’t do a very convincing job trying to refute the very serious criminal allegations underpinning the federal investigation. His defense basically amounts to claims that he’s the victim of a vast conspiracy….
During the interview with Carlson, Gaetz denied improper conduct, but he did so in a very limited and specific way, using language that raised more questions than it answered.
“The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false; people can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case,” Gaetz said — even though a 17-year-old is not a “woman,” the allegations go beyond mere “traveling,” and it’s unclear how “travel records” could disprove any of them.
Gaetz went on to allege that word of the investigation was leaked as part of an extortion plot, saying “what is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official” who demanded $25 million in exchange for making the sex trafficking allegations go away.
But during an MSNBC interview a short time later, one of the Times reporters bylined on the Gaetz story, Katie Benner, debunked one of Gaetz’s central claims, saying unequivocally that the former official Gaetz accused by name of being part of an extortion plot isn’t even involved in the investigation.
I’m still very confused.
Washington Post fact checker Salvador Rizzo explains why travel records could not prove the allegations against Gaetz are false. Basically, these records aren’t available to the public.
Here’s the bottom line: House members’ personal travel and expenses are not subject to disclosure, so there would be no public records to check regarding Gaetz’s private life.“If this was just personal travel, and he wasn’t using campaign or official funds, there’s no disclosure,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Airline flight manifests and personal credit card or bank statements would chart who went where with whom at what times and at whose expense, but those sensitive records are not public. Only law enforcement investigators could look through them by getting subpoenas.
Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The Matt Gaetz allegation, explained.
“The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz — a Florida Republican considered a close political ally of former president Donald Trump — over an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl,” The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett explain. That relationship allegedly included paying for the girl to travel, potentially across state lines, adding the complexity of potential federal charges related to sex trafficking, according to the Times. Both the Post and Times stories are constrained for fairly obvious reasons, including the limits of available information and the need to accurately convey the potential risk Gaetz faces.
The investigation apparently spun out of another sex-trafficking probe in Florida. That one focused on a former county official named Joel Greenberg, who was charged in the summer with a number of federal offenses, including sex trafficking of a minor.
“According to an indictment in the case, Greenberg abused his access to a statewide database, using it to look up the personal information of people with whom he was in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships, including the minor, and to help produce fake identification documents to ‘facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,’ ” Zapotosky and Barrett report. “He was also accused of seeking to undermine a political opponent by surfacing fabricated evidence of racism and misconduct.”
It’s worth noting that questions about Gaetz’s relationships have emerged in the past. A Mother Jones article from 2019 documents concerns raised by a former member of Gaetz’s staff about a 21-year-old he was then dating and who was apparently posting photos of the two of them on Instagram alongside other photos showing not-conservative-politician-friendly activities.
There’s more explanation and confusion at the link. What is clear is that there are two different investigations that Gaetz is trying to combine in his defense. Other than that, I’m still confused.
Gaetz’s father chimed in at Politico yesterday: Matt Gaetz’s dad says he wore a wire for FBI probe into DOJ extortion claims.
Rep. Matt Gaetz’s father, Don, a former Florida Senate president, said he is working with the FBI, including wearing a wire on more than one occasion as part of an investigation into an alleged extortion plot that the pair said was organized by former federal prosecutor David McGee.
“The FBI asked me to try and get that information for Matt and an indication we would transfer money to Mr. David McGee,” Don Gaetz said in an interview late Tuesday, without specifying what information he was referring to.
McGee, who is now in private practice with a Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm, did not respond to a POLITICO request seeking comment, but told other media outlets there is no truth to the alleged extortion plot.
Don Gaetz said in the interview he wore a wire during a meeting earlier this month with McGee and said he was set to meet Wednesday with Stephen Alford, a local developer who he said is also part of the alleged extortion scheme. During that meeting, Don Gaetz said, he was again set to wear a wire and try to get Alford to talk about payments he allegedly was to make to McGee, but the meeting fell apart when news broke that his son was being investigated by the Justice Department. Alford did not respond to text messages seeking comment.
In separate interviews, Don and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) acknowledged a Justice Department probe involving the younger Gaetz, 38, into whether he had improper involvement with a 17-year-old girl. The Gaetzes say they are the target of an extortion plot seeking money to keep the DOJ investigation quiet.
Today The Washington Post reported that the scandal involves Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran and is believed to be dead. Here’s a summary at The Week: The Matt Gaetz case now involves a missing FBI agent last seen in Iran.
When Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Fla.) father received a message that referred to a Justice Department investigation into his son and asked for help funding the search for Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran 14 years ago, he thought the request was suspicious and went to the FBI, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported that in the waning months of the Trump administration, the DOJ launched an investigation into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him out of state. Gaetz, who denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes, released a statement saying his family had been targeted by extortionists, and his father wore a wire at the insistence of the FBI.
People familiar with the matter told the Post that Gaetz’s wealthy father, Don Gaetz, received a text message and document from two men who said if he gave them money to help with the search for Levinson, Matt Gaetz would be seen as a hero and his legal troubles would likely go away. Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 while trying to get information on the country’s nuclear program, and was last seen alive in a 2010 hostage video. His family has said the U.S. government told them they believe Levinson is dead.
When Don Gaetz received these messages, the DOJ investigation into his son was not known publicly. It isn’t clear how the men learned about the investigation, and they do not appear to have any direct connection with the investigation. People with knowledge of the matter told the Post it will be hard to prove this was an extortion attempt because the men did not threaten to expose Gaetz’s DOJ investigation if the family did not give them money.
Matt Gaetz appeared on Fox News Tuesday night and accused a lawyer named David McGee of being involved in this effort. McGee has represented the Levinson family for years, and on Tuesday night he said Don Gaetz called him and they had a “pleasant conversation” about “the trouble his son was in.” McGee denied being involved in any extortion attempt, and his law firm on Wednesday called the allegation “false and defamatory.” Catherine Garcia
One more Gaetz story from ABC News: In investigation of Rep. Gaetz’s alleged sexual relationship with minor, feds looking beyond Florida, sources say.
Sources told ABC News the investigation has been going on for months and began during the Trump administration. Former Attorney General Bill Barr was briefed on the investigation’s progress several times, the sources said.
One source told ABC News that federal authorities have already interviewed multiple witnesses as part of their probe.
Gaetz has reportedly told confidants he is considering retiring from Congress and possibly joining the right-wing media outlet Newsmax, according to an Axios report earlier Tuesday.
Yet within the last several weeks Gaetz started reaching out to prominent attorneys, according to one source. The source said that one of the attorneys Gaetz asked to represent him was Washington attorney Bill Burck, who represented Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Don McGahn during the Mueller probe. Burck turned down the case, according to a person familiar with the decision.
So this story keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. One interesting point is that apparently Gaetz is very unpopular with Republicans and they are rooting for him to go down in flames. A few more links to check out:
Jeff Stein at Spy Talk: Gaetz ‘Extortion’ Figure’s Levinson Obsession.
The Daily Beast: The Creepy, Disturbing Case That Ensnared Matt Gaetz.
Ben Jacobs at New York Magazine: Matt Gaetz Gets a Scandal As Wild As Him.
The Daily Beast: Republicans Have Been Waiting for a Matt Gaetz Scandal to Break.
The Hill: Fox has no interest in hiring Matt Gaetz.
I’ll be keeping an eye on this story, because it’s still so confusing to me. I guess we’ll be learning more soon. So what’s on your mind today? As always, this is an open thread.