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The witness later spoke with prosecutors, the sources said.

Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing, including obstructing justice or having sex with the trafficked 17-year-old, who was a friend of both Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend and the witness prosecutors interviewed.

The obstruction probe is the latest development in the ongoing federal investigation into Gaetz, a top ally of former President Donald Trump who has come under increasing scrutiny due to his relationship with Greenberg — now a cooperating witness. The obstruction inquiry signals how wide a net federal prosecutors are casting to possibly ensnare the congressman.

A spokesman for Gaetz provided a written statement that stated the congressman — who is an attorney — broke no laws and characterized the federal government’s investigation as a politically motivated fishing expedition.

“Congressman Gaetz pursues justice, he doesn’t obstruct it,” the statement said. “The anonymous allegations have thus far amounted to lies, wrapped in leaks, rooted in an extortion plot by a former DOJ official. After two months, there is still not a single on-record accusation of misconduct, and now the ‘story’ is changing yet again.”

Gaetz’s statement also said his lawyers are simultaneously investigating an alleged shakedown scheme that was purportedly organized by a former federal prosecutor in reaction to the case.

Brian Tannebaum, a veteran federal defense attorney briefed by POLITICO on the investigation, said that obstruction of justice is “widely used by prosecutors in various forms” and can even ensnare witnesses who lie on the stand at trial. He said that, if authorities recorded the call involving Gaetz, prosecutors will listen for signs that he’s trying to get the woman to “get her story straight” by shading the truth.

“If there’s any indication he was trying to influence her testimony, that can be obstruction,” Tannebaum said. “If it’s determined that what he said obstructed the investigation — ‘did what he tell you have any influence on your testimony before the grand jury?’ — it can be real problem.”

Neither Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend nor the witness on the call could be reached for comment. POLITICO is not naming either woman or the then-17-year-old victim of Greenberg’s sex-trafficking to respect their privacy.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond for comment.

The former Gaetz girlfriend who was on the call in question, meanwhile, is seeking an immunity deal from prosecutors and has expressed fears to friends that she too may have run afoul of an obstruction of justice charge. She told friends that she feared the alleged trafficking victim may have recorded her in another phone call.

Though Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend has not signed an immunity deal yet, she might do so by the end of the month, according to insiders with first-hand knowledge of the investigation into Gaetz who say July could be a prime time for the congressman to be indicted if there’s enough evidence against him. Greenberg is already cooperating with the federal government, and there are signs that the woman he sex-trafficked as a minor is cooperating as well.

Gaetz dated his ex-girlfriend in 2017 and 2018, but they had an open relationship that involved other women, including the one involved in the three-way call under examination from prosecutors, according to two sources familiar with the relationship. Those two women joined Gaetz and others — including Greenberg’s sex-trafficking victim after she turned 18 — on a jaunt to the Bahamas in late 2018.

Prosecutors are also examining that trip to see if Gaetz or others violated a federal law, the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting people across state lines to engage in prostitution.

Gaetz has consistently denied paying for sex or prostitutes but has acknowledged engaging in so-called “sugar daddy” relationships with the women he met through Greenberg, who in turn found many of them on the SeekingArrangement website for men looking for relationships with younger women.

But while SeekingArrangement relationships might not meet the legal definition of prostitution for a Mann Act case, experts say that the federal sex-trafficking of a minor statute has a broader definition of financial transactions. If a suspect had sex with someone under the age of 18, and if something of value changes hands, then a suspect can be charged.

An attorney representing one of the people of interest to authorities in the investigation said prosecutors have interviewed “numerous women” and that there were “wild sex parties involving drugs, multiple women.” But, because of the wide ambit of the sex-trafficking of a minor statute, it could rope in some of the women who were sexually involved with the 17-year-old in 2017.

“Sex trafficking of a minor involves two prongs in this case: did you have sex with [the 17-year-old] and did anything of value change hands? If the answer is yes, and if any of these other women were involved, why are they not facing charges as well?” the lawyer asked.

“If the federal government wants to call a bunch of people to the state who sex-trafficked a minor in order to bust Gaetz for the same crime, it’s an avenue for his defense if it gets that far.”

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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