NYT Continues to Exaggerate Developments in Connection With Investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

On Tuesday, the New York Times published a story claiming that Joel Greenberg, currently under indictment in the Middle District of Florida on a variety of federal criminal offenses, had been cooperating with federal investigators since last year, including providing the government with information about the activities of GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Greenberg served as Tax Collector for Seminole County, Florida, an elective office that seems to have a significant amount of law enforcement responsibility and resources.  Greenberg was first indicted by the US Attorney in the Middle District of Florida in June 2020.  The government sought and obtained First and Second Superseding Indictments adding numerous additional charges in the summer of 2020, with the Second Superseding Indictment having been returned by the grand jury on August 18, 2020.  The charges after the Second Superseding indictment was added included sex trafficking of minors, aggravated identity theft, unlawful use of a motor vehicle record, and “stalking” in violation of federal law.

Nearly eight months later, the US Attorney sought and obtained a Third Superseding Indictment on March 30, 2021, which added several additional criminal charges involving fraud, corruption, and other financial crimes to the charges previously filed against him.

During a court appearance following the return of the Third Superseding Indictment, a federal prosecutor informed the Court that there would likely be a plea disposition of the matter involving Greenberg in the near future.  Greenberg’s attorney made comments to the press after the hearing strongly hinting that Greenberg was cooperating and that his cooperation included information about Gaetz.

Given that history, there are some oddities in the reporting by the NYT.

While I can’t dismiss the possibility out of hand completely, it seems unlikely to me that the US Attorney would go back to the grand jury in late March to add many new charges against Greenberg if Greenberg had truly been cooperating with the government by providing information about Gaetz (and others presumably).

It is possible they chose to take that course because Greenberg’s case is set for trial in June and that there was not yet a final agreement on a guilty plea by Greenberg when the additional evidence was presented to the grand jury.

But the goal of forcing Greenberg to made a decision could have been accomplished by simply drafting an indictment or information, and sharing that draft document with his attorney along with the suggestion that Greenberg needed to accept the terms of the plea offer proposed, or face a new set of charges ahead of the upcoming trial.

It strikes me as unlikely that Greenberg has been “cooperating” since last year, while at the same time the status of the case against him was still unresolved in late March.  I suspect the reporters simply didn’t understand what they were writing about, as evidenced by this paragraph:

Mr. Greenberg began speaking with investigators once he realized that the government had overwhelming evidence against him and that his only path to leniency lay in cooperation, the people said. He has met several times with investigators to try to establish his trustworthiness, though the range of criminal charges against him — including fraud — could undermine his credibility as a witness.

It would not be unusual for Greenberg to have been interviewed — maybe several times — under a “use immunity” agreement where he provided information about his own conduct and the conduct of others with the condition that the prosecutors would not use his own statements against him at trial.  But such interviews are not really “cooperation” and the fact that there were multiple interviews suggests that Greenberg was not completely forthcoming in answering the investigators’ questions.  If he had been, there would not have been a need for numerous interviews.

Oftentimes a sequence of interviews like this begins with the suspect attempting to explain away his conduct in innocent terms, or to point the finger of blame at others rather than acknowledge criminal actions themselves.  When a potential cooperator puts himself in this kind of position, where the “truth” is an evolving story over a series of interviews, it becomes problematic in terms of making use of that person later as a witness at trial. They knew when they agreed to be interviewed that the first ground rule was “Don’t lie,” yet they broke that rule in the first interview.  This is often a hard fact to get a potential cooperator to understand — there will be questions asked about which the investigators and the prosecutors already know the answer — the purpose for asking the question is to see if the potential cooperator will tell the truth.

When a cooperator knowingly lies, that does serious damage to his credibility on the witness stand and reduces his value in the case.  That is the reason why no prosecutor or special counsel ever took Michael Cohen seriously as a possible cooperating witness, and why Cohen never received any meaningful benefit for the “cooperation” he claimed he provided against President Trump.

It is possible — in fact, it is likely — that Greenberg gave a series of problematic statements which led to the decision by the prosecutors to simply have the grand jury charge him with all the crimes they had evidence he had committed.  Only after this happened with the filing of the Third Superseding Indictment — which would have also triggered the obligation of the government to provide Greenberg’s attorney with the evidence supporting the charges — was Greenberg’s attorney able to convince him of the necessity to plead guilty and cooperate fully.  That seems consistent with where we find ourselves today.

If this is the course that Greenberg’s case has followed, Greenberg is a deeply damaged witness from a credibility standpoint when it comes to making a case against Gaetz.

But in the end, it is possible that Greenberg isn’t really needed as a witness who takes the stand to testify.  It might be enough that Greenberg provides investigators with sufficient information to allow them to pursue other evidence or witnesses who they can use in trying to build a case against Gaetz.

While there may be a grain of truth in the NYT’s reporting, the sequence of events involving the prosecution of Greenberg casts some doubt on conclusions drawn by the authors.