House Ethics Probe Into Matt Gaetz Is Ramping Up—With New Witnesses

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House Ethics Probe Into Matt Gaetz Is Ramping Up—With New Witnesses

The congressional investigation into Florida Representative Matt Gaetz has entered a new phase, reportedly making contact with several new witnesses in recent weeks as it probes allegations of sexual misconduct, drug use, and public corruption by the MAGA Republican.

The Republican-led House Ethics Committee has expanded its contact with individuals connected to the original Department of Justice investigation that identified Gaetz as an associate and client of a sex trafficker, reported ABC News.

“It’s great to see the Ethics Committee has interests beyond trading stocks. They seem to be quite the unusual whales,” Gaetz told ABC, responding to the committee’s recent developments.

The House reopened its probe in July after the Justice Department closed its own with no formal charges issued against Gaetz, who criticized the renewed House probe for “trying to weaponize their process.”

The accusations against Gaetz arise from a DOJ sex-trafficking probe into one of Gaetz’s friends, Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for Seminole County, who was later convicted of sex trafficking. The initial probe also named Gaetz, who Greenberg claimed had paid him via Venmo in order to have sex with an underage girl in 2017.

Eight months after Greenberg warned Gaetz to “steer clear” of the girl, the lawmaker Venmo’d Greenberg $900 in back-to-back payments, per The Daily Beast, telling the taxman to “hit up” the girl on his behalf. At that point, she was five months past her eighteenth birthday, while Gaetz had just turned 36.

Greenberg was later convicted of sex trafficking an underaged girl.

Gaetz has repeatedly denied the allegations, though that hasn’t assuaged the nation’s voters, some of whom have shown up to Trump rallies to troll the MAGA Floridian over the accusations.

On Sunday, Gaetz encountered an audience member during a campaign meet and greet who asked if Gaetz would be interested in a “bag full of underage girls,” before emerging with a sack containing a blow-up sex doll.

And in December, Gaetz received a facetious award under similar circumstances at an Ohio GOP event. On a livestream of the Strongsville Republican Party’s Christmas gathering, Gaetz was handed a trophy lauding him for his alleged dedication to using Venmo to pay for sex with underage girls.

The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday released the transcript of the testimony of Kevin Morris, a friend of and attorney for Hunter Biden, and his statements undercut everything Republicans have said about the embattled first son.

Morris is a high-powered entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles who met Hunter at a 2019 presidential fundraiser for his father, Joe Biden. Morris has loaned Hunter nearly $5 million in the years since. He testified about his relationship with Hunter in a closed-door committee hearing last week.

Initially, Oversight Chair James Comer just released a list of paraphrased highlights from Morris’s testimony. Comer claimed that Morris informally loaned Hunter the money and does not expect to be repaid until after the 2024 election—or possibly ever. But the transcript shows this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In reality, Morris never once mentioned the possibility of forgiving the loans. Instead, he said he has a “100 percent” expectation that Hunter will repay him, and repeatedly states that he and Hunter have a series of promissory notes agreeing the younger Biden will pay back the money.

What’s more, Morris testified that there is a “balloon” on the loans set for after the election. This means that Hunter is currently making low or even no payments but will start making lump repayments in 2025.

The only person who mentions loan forgiveness in the entire interview is Representative Andy Biggs. The Arizona Republican has been a vocal critic of the Biden family, accusing them of criminal wrongdoing. Biggs asked what consequences Hunter would face if he defaulted on these loans.

Morris joked that, hypothetically, a lender could ask the borrower to “come over and wash your car for the rest of their life.”

Biggs replied, “Or you can forgive. You can forgive it.”

Morris agreed that was an option, but he never said he would.

Morris also repeatedly stated that Hunter never asked him for the money. Morris would voluntarily send money through his lawyers to Hunter’s, but the younger Biden did not ask him to do so. Morris only gave Hunter cash directly once, when he bought two paintings on their second meeting in 2019. And again, he wants the rest of the money he loaned paid back with interest.

Ultimately, the whole interview takes much of the bite out of Comer’s accusations. Comer has repeatedly accused Hunter of influence peddling and accepting bribes, which implies Hunter can be bought—and so can his father in the White House.

Instead, Morris describes Hunter as “a guy getting the crap beat out of him” by addiction, money troubles, grief, and paparazzi obsession—but who still won’t ask for help.

Morris’s lawyer accused Comer last week of grossly misrepresenting what Morris actually said during his deposition. Bryan Sullivan slammed Comer’s “cherry‐picked, out of context and totally misleading” press release and demanded the representative release the full transcript.

Oversight Committee Democrats have previously accused Comer of misrepresenting witness testimony in his quest to prove the Biden family is guilty of criminal wrongdoing. Comer has for months accused the president of corruption and influence peddling, but he has yet to produce any actual evidence.

A day after Ron DeSantis exhausted his bid for the White House and endorsed Donald Trump for the presidency, the Florida governor nixed a Republican effort to line Trump’s legal fund from within his state.

On Monday evening, DeSantis shared a link to a Politico article titled, “Some Florida Republicans want taxpayers to pay Trump’s legal bills,” referring to a bill introduced by state Senator Ileana Garcia, who proposed that Florida taxpayers should foot $5 million in legal aid to the former president.

“But not the Florida Republican who wields the veto pen,” DeSantis posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Garcia’s proposal garnered initial support within the state, getting an endorsement from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. The “Florida Freedom Fighters Fund” bill argued that Trump qualified for legal aid from a designated state fund, because he is a presidential candidate and Florida resident “subject to political discrimination.” That coffer comes from fees paid by candidates running for political office within the state but would be replenished by voluntary donations made by residents when renewing their driver’s licenses, according to Florida Politics.

“Having a Floridian in the White House is good for our state,” Garcia said in a statement issued on Monday, referring to the former president who was born and raised among New York City’s social elite. “And anything we can do to support Florida Presidential candidates, like President Trump, will not only benefit our state, but our nation.”

But that support quickly died down after DeSantis came out in opposition to the bill, with Garcia almost immediately rescinding the proposal and backtracking in incredible fashion by claiming online that Trump actually didn’t need the financial help anymore.

“This bill was filed on January 5th amidst a crowded primary, including two Florida residents. My concern was the political weaponization against conservative candidates, and while (Patronis) brought me this bill at a time when all candidates were committing to campaign through the primary, one frontrunner now remains, and he can handle himself. I will be withdrawing the bill,” Garcia said, reposting DeSantis’s comments.

Trump is currently facing 91 charges across four criminal cases and potentially steep civil penalties for the continuous defamation of Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll and for the Trump Organization’s bank fraud in New York, which may result in a fine as high as $370 million.

Donald Trump didn’t shy away from several Qanon chants that erupted throughout the last leg of his New Hampshire campaign on Monday.

During a quiet moment of the rally, attendees engaged in a bit of call-and-response with the GOP front-runner, shouting things at Trump for his reactions.

“Where we go one, we go all,” erupted the crowd in a QAnon chant that’s frequently abbreviated to WWG1WGA in online messaging boards like 4chan, where the cult began.

Trump then smiled and nodded, scanning his audience.

“Free the January 6-ers,” shouted one of the attendees.

“We will,” Trump responded, pointing back at her.

In the three years since Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempt to thwart Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s presidential win, the Justice Department has convicted hundreds of the rioters, including former police officers, active duty U.S. Marines, and many members of far-right extremist groups. QAnon supporters comprise a good chunk of those convictions, with the self-proclaimed QAnon Shaman, Jacob Chansley, emerging as one of the central figures of the revolt.

— Acyn (@Acyn) January 23, 2024

Trump has held messiah-like status within QAnon’s conspiratorial circle for years thanks to their principal belief that, despite being named and photographed as an associate of sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and despite being found liable by a jury for sexually abusing Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll, Trump will rid the world of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run the government and media.

And Trump has readily welcomed the cockeyed adoration. In 2020, Trump offered the movement plausible deniability at an executive level—claiming that while he didn’t know much about QAnon, he couldn’t disprove its theories. Just two years later, Trump was regularly circulating bits of the conspiracy on TruthSocial, reposting images of himself wearing Q pins subtitled with the cult’s messaging, “A Storm is Coming,” referring to Trump’s final victory when QAnon supporters expect him to mass-execute his opponents.

Barbie was conspicuously absent from certain Oscar categories when the award nominations were announced Tuesday, and people are furious.

The record-setting film received a nomination for best picture, and Ryan Gosling is up for best actor in a supporting role for his admittedly iconic portrayal of Ken. But titular star Margot Robbie was nowhere to be seen in the list of best leading actress nominations, and director Greta Gerwig is not up for best director.

America Ferrera did receive a nomination for best actress in a supporting role. But still, the fact that a movie about the patriarchy does not acknowledge the leading women feels a little on the nose.

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer—the other half of the massive cultural phenomenon that was “Barbenheimer”—dominated the categories with a total of 13 nominations.

Never shy about sharing their opinions, users on X (formerly Twitter) let loose on the deep irony of Ken, but not Barbie, getting an Oscar nomination about the challenges of womanhood and the dangers of toxic masculinity.

Ken getting nominated and not Barbie is honestly so fitting for a film about a man discovering the power of patriarchy in the Real World.

— Michael. (@yosoymichael) January 23, 2024

Wait Ryan Gosling got nominated for his role as Ken, but Margot Robbie didn’t get nominated for Barbie?! And Greta got snubbed for Best Director?!?!

Way to justify the literal plot of the movie @TheAcademy 🥴 #Oscars2024 pic.twitter.com/6MEHaSeTjZ

— Shirleigh (@ShirleighShirlz) January 23, 2024

So Greta Gerwig created one of the most original films of the decade, one that completely blew apart people’s expectations of what a #Barbie movie could be & resonated with millions … yet apparently that’s not *quite* worth a nomination for best director??? #Oscars2024 pic.twitter.com/UXbm4zrdIy

— Laura Tisdall (@LauraTisdall) January 23, 2024

Nominating Ken but not Barbie is so on the nose it hurts.

— itsonlyzach (@itsonlyzach) January 23, 2024

Let me see if I understand this: the Academy nominated “Barbie” for Best Picture (eight nominations total) — a film about women being sidelined and rendered invisible in patriarchal structures — but not the woman who directed the film.

Okay then.

— Charlotte Clymer 🇺🇦 (@cmclymer) January 23, 2024

Elon Musk, who has used social media to spread antisemitic conspiracy theories, is now arguing that had social media existed at the time of the Holocaust, it could have prevented the tragedy.

Musk visited the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau on Monday, as part of an apparent apology tour for his blatant antisemitism. Later that day, he participated in a conference on antisemitism organized in Krakow by the European Jewish Association.

Musk admitted he had been “somewhat naive” about the dangers of antisemitism. But he revealed how little he actually cares by sitting down for an interview with Ben Shapiro, a far-right commentator and conspiracy theorist. The two men then insisted that social media could have prevented the Holocaust from happening.

To prove their argument, Musk showed fake tweets he created of people sharing photos of Nazi attacks on synagogues, supporting Jewish resistance fighters, and pushing back against Holocaust deniers. There was even a tweet from the “official” Auschwitz account claiming Jews there were “thriving”—only to have a community note debunk that claim.

This claim holds very little water, for many reasons. A major one, as journalist Aaron Gordon pointed out, was that Nazi Germany revoked Jews’ right to free movement long before the death camps were built. So all those tweets from people urging Jews to leave Germany would have been meaningless.

Another reason is that many civilians were well aware of what Nazis were doing, or at least aware that Jewish people were being removed and never seen again. And they were perfectly content to let it happen.

In fact, if the current state of X (formerly Twitter) is anything to go by, social media could have actually made the Holocaust happen faster.

Since Musk took over the social media platform, X has been rife with hate speech. Musk himself is a major source of disinformation and hate speech, particularly antisemitism. He has also let multiple neo-Nazis back onto X, after previous leadership banned them.

In November, Musk backed a vile antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jewish people are getting what they deserve because they harbor “diabolical hatred against whites.” That, combined with the revelation that X was placing ads next to pro-Hitler and pro-Nazi content, sent advertisers fleeing the platform in droves (again).

Musk said Monday that his November post was “literally the worst and dumbest post I’ve ever done,” which is saying something if you look at his X feed. He claimed he hadn’t understood the dangers of anti-Jewish sentiment because “in the circles I move in, I see no antisemitism.”

He said that “two-thirds of my friends are Jewish,” which actually undercuts his previous claim. Surely at least one of those Jewish friends would have been able to tell Musk about antisemitism.

Musk then claimed that thanks to all his information-hoarding friends, he is “Jewish by association.”

“I’m aspirationally Jewish,” he said, which holds all the gravity of someone calling themself “Jew-ish.”

(Unfortunately) More on Elon:

Donald Trump took the road less traveled on Monday, opting to use sounds and shapes rather than words to explain what he had in mind for America’s military.

During a campaign stop in Laconia, New Hampshire—the last rally before the state’s Republican primary—Trump announced that under his leadership, the country would copy and paste Israel’s Iron Dome defense system over our own national borders. That idea, by the way, has previously earned him ridicule even by the likes of Fox News.

“I will build an Iron Dome over our country, a state-of-the-art missile defense shield made in the USA,” Trump said. “We do it for other countries. We help other countries, we build, we don’t do it for ourselves.”

But then, things got weird as Trump tried once again to assert his “extremely stable genius” status.

“These are not muscle guys here, they’re muscle guys up here, right,” Trump said, gesturing to his arms and then his head.

“And they calmly walk to us, and ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.… They’ve only got 17 seconds to figure this whole thing out. Boom. OK. Missile launch. Woosh. Boom,” he added.

The former president provides an elaborate description of missile defense technology: Ding ding ding ding boom whoosh boom pic.twitter.com/PgWRVJh8xI

— Acyn (@Acyn) January 23, 2024

The stunning performance comes after the 77-year-old bragged that he “aced” a cognitive test that required him to correctly identify a giraffe, tiger, and whale. According to Trump, that means his “mind is stronger now than it was 25 years ago.” In reality, that test is meant to measure dementia or cognitive decline, and it has never included the combination of animals Trump keeps mentioning.

Trump’s cognitive decline has been in question recently after the GOP front-runner was spotted with mysterious red sores on his hands. Trump has also been making increasingly nonsense remarks during his campaign tangents—last week, the former president said he would stop banks from “debanking” Americans—and confusing major players in American politics. During another campaign speech, Trump switched up former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and his only rival in the GOP race, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, several times, blaming Haley for the events of January 6 while claiming she turned down extra security. (The House committee assigned to probe the attack found no evidence to support Trump’s claim, which he has previously leveled at Pelosi.)

“Don’t be surprised if you have someone that is 80 in office, their mental stability is going to continue to decline. That’s just human nature,” Haley said Sunday on Face the Nation. “I don’t know if he was confused, I don’t know what happened, but it’s enough to send us a warning sign.”

House Republicans are getting increasingly frustrated at their caucus’s inability to draft laws and enact change, with some very publicly complaining about their party’s lack of accomplishments.

“We have nothing. In my opinion, we have nothing to go out there and campaign on,” Arizona Representative Andy Biggs told Newsmax’s Chris Salcedo at the beginning of the year. “It’s embarrassing.”

“The Republican Party in the Congress majority has zero accomplishments,” Salcedo agreed.

That’s in part thanks to the party’s incredibly slim majority in the House, which can currently only afford two defections on any given vote, as well as a growing rift in the Republican Party that has split lawmakers between long-standing conservative ideals and Trumpian loyalism.

The 118th Congress has passed fewer than 30 bills thus far, a paltry showing compared to previous congresses, which have generally passed more than 300.

With just 10 months until Election Day, the lacking report card is beginning to hang heavy over many Republicans, who fear it may be a death knell for their political ambitions.

“If we keep extending the pain and creating more suffering, we will pay the price at the ballot box. But if we can get on with governance and get the best policy wins we can, then you can open-field this thing,” former Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry told reporters on Thursday. “But at this point, we are sucking wind because we can’t get past the main object in the road. Once we get past that main object, then it’s the president’s performance on the economy, it’s the president’s performance on national security.”

McHenry also said Johnson needs to get a grip on the fact that Republicans “control one-third of the negotiations” so “we’re going to not get 100 percent of the wins.”

Against all odds, several openings for Republican wins lie on the horizon. The spending deal between House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could secure big wins for spending cuts, while a Senate immigration deal could help Republicans tighten border security. Yet none of those are guaranteed for the divided caucus, which so far has effectively objected to any negotiations with Democrats.

The party has shown little interest in actually working on those openings, threatening to boot Johnson for negotiating with Democrats and opting instead to spend time nitpicking and ousting its House leadership and dragging on a meritless impeachment of President Joe Biden, which some party members have admitted has “no evidence.”

And other Republicans, instead of turning their attention to material policy change, are privately predicting Johnson’s end should the party lose its majority in the House this fall.

“I don’t think he’s safe right now,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told Politico. “The only reason he’s speaker is because our conference is so desperate.”

Some conservatives saw the writing on the wall months ago. In November, Freedom Caucus member Representative Chip Roy blew a gasket, criticizing his party for continually failing to follow through on campaign promises, even when it had the majority in the House, Senate, and White House during Trump’s presidency.

“One thing. I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing. One. That I can go campaign on and say we did,” Roy said. “One!”

“Talked a big game about building a wall and having Mexico pay for it. Ain’t no wall, and Mexico didn’t pay for it, and we didn’t pass any border security,” he added.

The nation’s highest court ruled on Monday that federal agents could snip or move razor wire Texas agents placed along the Rio Grande section of the U.S.-Mexico border, siding with the federal government and President Joe Biden that Texas had overstepped its authority in national border enforcement.

The 5–4 decision, which was issued without an opinion as is the norm in cases of emergency applications, is the latest update in a monthslong spar between Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the federal government over elements of its anti-immigration effort dubbed “Operation Lone Star.” In October, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the initial lawsuit against the Biden administration, claiming that federal agents were unlawfully destroying elements of the state’s border deterrence efforts and “damaging Texas’s ability to effectively deter illegal entry into Texas.”

BREAKING: SCOTUS sides with Biden administration in fight with Texas over access to a strip of the border with Mexico.

It’s a 5-4 decision with no opinions. pic.twitter.com/WNR4gGEEFh

— Steven Mazie (@stevenmazie) January 22, 2024

“Texas has the sovereign right to construct border barriers to prevent the entry of illegal aliens,” said Paxton at the time.

The case was granted an emergency request filed by the Biden administration, which argued that the wire was preventing federal agents from accessing the border and from reaching migrants who had already crossed the border.

A federal judge initially ruled for the Biden administration, but a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—based in New Orleans—reversed that decision last month, preventing federal agents from moving the wire except in the event of a medical emergency.

The slim decision saw Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett join the court’s three liberal justices to side with Biden over Texas.

House Republicans started the week with a new, even smaller majority that could set the chamber up for a remarkably unproductive session.

As of Monday, Democrats have 213 seats in the House. Republicans have just 219 seats, after Ohio Representative Bill Johnson served his last day in the chamber this weekend. There are also two other vacancies, with the expulsion of George Santos and the resignation of Kevin McCarthy late last year.

This will likely make it even harder for Congress to get anything done in its new session. If just three Republican lawmakers dissent, Republicans won’t be able to pass legislation. If Democrats win over four Republicans, they could flip the tables and push through their own agenda.

During the first half of its first two-year session, when Republicans had a larger majority in the House, the 118th Congress passed less than 30 bills through both chambers. Typically, Congress passes between 300 and 450 laws per session.

Even when Republicans controlled at least one chamber during Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s presidencies, Congress managed to pass at least 70 bills during those sessions.

This Congress’s low productivity can be blamed in large part on Republican in-fighting, particularly over government spending bills and their own House speaker. The party’s farthest-right wing has repeatedly demanded to slash government spending, taking the U.S. to the brink of a disastrous shutdown multiple times as representatives fought to get their way.

This led to McCarthy’s ousting as House speaker, after he made a deal with Democrats to keep the government funded. The multiple agonizing rounds of votes for speaker, first for McCarthy and then for his successor, Mike Johnson, have paralyzed the House. And Johnson may soon be on the chopping block, as well.

More than ever, Republicans can’t afford defectors if they want to pass anything. But they have yet to achieve total unity for a single vote. It’s starting to look less and less likely that Congress will achieve anything this year, either.

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