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Gaetz ex-girlfriend feared alleged sex-trafficking victim taped call for feds

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Gaetz ex-girlfriend feared alleged sex-trafficking victim taped call for feds

Gaetz’s former girlfriend has played a bit role in the unfolding public drama — she is the woman who sent the lawmaker a nude video of her performing a hula hoop dance that he showed to other members of Congress.

But two of her friends, who declined to be identified publicly because of the sensational nature of the case, say she now suspects she was being set up when the alleged victim and another woman involved in the case called her to discuss the lawmaker in what she fears might have been a recorded conference call. The call took place sometime after Greenberg was indicted for the sex crime in August.

The friends did not provide details about exactly what was discussed, but one recounted that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend said she was opposed to talking to authorities and is now worried that prosecutors might try to charge her with obstructing justice in order to get to Gaetz.

Tim Jansen, an attorney for Gaetz’s former girlfriend, declined to comment about his client. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, also declined to talk. Gaetz has strongly denied allegations he engaged in any sex crimes.

The three women on the call were all present on a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas that authorities think may shed light on the allegations against Gaetz. Also present on that trip: Gaetz and two other Florida Republican political players, former Orlando-area aviation authority member and Gov. Ron DeSantis fundraiser Jason Pirozzolo and former state Rep. Halsey Beshears.

POLITICO is withholding the names of the women who went to the Bahamas, including his ex-girlfriend, because of the sensitive nature of the case and the allegations that while there, some of the women engaged in prostitution.

As the investigation intensified this winter, Beshears abruptly resigned in January as Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary — a post that made him the state’s top business regulator — noting he had contracted Covid-19. About that time, federal authorities seized the iPhones of Gaetz and his former girlfriend.

Federal authorities are examining the Bahamas trip to see if it violated the Mann Act, which forbids transporting people across state lines to engage in prostitution. One woman on the trip told POLITICO that no one engaged in prostitution.

The alleged victim in the sex-trafficking case had turned 18 almost nine months before the Bahamas trip. But Gaetz has acknowledged he’s the subject of a federal investigation into whether he had improper involvement with her as a 17-year-old.

A source familiar with the investigation wouldn’t say whether the alleged victim was cooperating with authorities. But when asked if she has been talking for months with the federal government, the source said “100 percent.”

While the alleged sex-trafficking victim is key to the case against Greenberg and the allegations against Gaetz, the lawmaker’s ex-girlfriend could play a pivotal role in the investigation of the trip, as well as other related controversies.

Gaetz was criticized for allegedly showing the hula hoop video to congressional colleagues, and he was also accused of engaging in revenge porn against his former girlfriend. But two of her friends say the woman, in her early 20s, did not object to him showing it to friends — provided he didn’t send it to others or post it on social media — because she was proud of her appearance and performance.

“This is the best I will ever look in my life,” a friend who saw the video recalled her saying. “That’s how she is. It’s not revenge porn.”

The former girlfriend first met Gaetz while she attended college in the Orlando area in 2017. Greenberg, who established contact with her on the SeekingArrangement website — a dating website that connects women with so-called sugar daddies — made the connection. Soon after, she began dating Gaetz, although the relationship was not exclusive, friends said.

Gaetz later got her a job interning in the office of another Republican member of Congress, but that member let her go when it was discovered she was a Democrat, according to Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who promptly hired her when Gaetz told him of the matter.

Soto, who is not involved in the investigation, would not name the Republican lawmaker or comment about the case. But he said the woman was a hard worker in his office and that he had no complaints about her, other than some inquiries about whether Gaetz’s relationship with the intern was inappropriate.

“We wanted to protect her privacy from the media. She was just an intern,” Soto said. “I’ll also say she was fired by a Republican for being a Democrat. I found it offensive that she was fired for her political beliefs.”

Gaetz and the ex-girlfriend continued to date until well after the Bahamas trip in 2018. Friends said the two remained on good terms, although she was a source of friction between the lawmaker and Beshears. Beshears had apparently been taking her out on dates in Tallahassee, including a trip to the Florida State University president’s skybox at Doak Campbell Stadium, mutual friends said.

At the time, Beshears had recently been left by another girlfriend after she learned about the Bahamas trip. Beshears, then a state legislator, had flown several of the women on his private plane, which was briefly detained by U.S. Customs upon its return to Florida for questioning about the ages of several of the young women on the trip.

“Here was Halsey with three young women who could have been his daughters, and a Customs agent was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?‘” said a source who was familiar with the incident.

Speaking to the partying group and the drama surrounding them, a different mutual friend said: “Tallahassee is like high school. But no one ever graduates.”

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How Republicans Became the ‘Barstool’ Party

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How Republicans Became the ‘Barstool’ Party

A half-decade ago, the originally Boston-based site and its rabid fan community wouldn’t have scanned as “political” at all. But now, its proudly Neanderthal, reactionary ethos aligns perfectly with the side of our political binary that Trump reconfigured: the one whose common denominator is a tooth-and-nail, middle-finger unwillingness to accept liberal social norms.

If you looked at Portnoy circa 2010 — a budding bro-entrepreneur, popping champagne with models in cheesy photo shoots — you’d have to squint pretty hard to see a potential Republican standard-bearer. If you look now, it’s hard not to. It’s commonplace by now to observe that the Trump presidency “changed everything” for Republicans, from conventional wisdom on policy to how their internal politics are conducted. But first and foremost, it changed the face the party presented to the world. Where onetime nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain tried and failed to subordinate cultural grievance to a more professionalized, inclusive style of politics, Trump succeeded by placing it right on the front of the tin. And when he casually dismantled that old fusion of free-market economic fervor and country-club traditionalism, Barstool was ready.

The rise of the “Barstool Republican,” to coin a phenotype, doesn’t necessarily explain Trump. It is, however, a useful way to understand what’s happened to American politics without constantly invoking the former president’s name. Portnoy’s devotees aren’t MAGA fanatics or Q fans who live to torment liberals, and they’re certainly not part of the GOP’s evangelical base. (One could imagine the last thing they’d want is a Supreme Court that strikes down Roe.) But the Barstool Republican now largely defines the Republican coalition because of his willingness to dispense with his party’s conventional policy wisdom on anything — the social safety net, drug laws, abortion access — as long as it means one thing: he doesn’t have to vote for some snooty Democrat, and, by proxy, the caste of lousy deans that props up the left’s politically-correct cultural regime.

The backlash to liberal domination of pop culture and the past decade’s transformation of speech norms created the Barstool Republican long before Portnoy’s name was bandied about in jest as a political candidate. And if you’ve been paying attention, their cultural revolution dates back to a time when such antics were more likely to get you kicked out of Mar-a-Lago than installed as its lifelong “El Presidente.”

***

Lost in the annals of a time when culture wars weren’t quite as central to our national politics is a nomenclature that now seems almost quaint: the so-called “South Park Republican.”

As far back as 2001, the gadfly conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan was using the term to describe members of his political tribe who shared the anti-P.C., socially libertarian views of “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Stone and Parker, true to form, loudly protested their hatred of both major parties. Still, the label stuck, inspiring sparring New York Times columns and even a book-length exploration of the concept by conservative writer Brian C. Anderson.

In the political climate of the mid-2000s, the concept’s appeal was obvious: As Gen X-ers and younger Baby Boomers entered the ranks of the political elite, it made sense that they would dispense with the blue-blooded stuffiness and social conservatism of the Reagan-Bush imperium in favor of a vaguely countercultural, post-Sixties tolerance. W traded his father’s country-club affect for a pair of cowboy boots, but he wasn’t fooling anyone: The cultural energy in the Republican Party, to the extent that it had any, was in its feather-ruffling libertarian wing, whose influence would soon reach its zenith with the self-proclaimed Ron Paul Revolution. But like so many would-be revolutions, this one was denied — or at least delayed and mutated.

Paul’s 2012 bid to become the Republican Party’s presidential standard-bearer fizzled out in spectacular fashion, failing to convert internet hype into any meaningful primary support. Romney won the nomination and invited the youthful Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan along for the ride (whose rad workout gear and politically inscrutable love of Rage Against the Machine, alas, failed to inspire a Romney-Ryan youth movement).

Crashing on the rocks of both Barack Obama’s megawatt cultural celebrity and the looming coronation of Jeb Bush as the post-“autopsy” face of the GOP, the Rude Republican cohort was at loose ends — until an unlikely salvation came in the form of a 6’3” reality show host and frequent Howard Stern guest descending his golden escalator into the first paragraph of 21st-century American history.

Trump was at first an uneasy fit for both the more culturally-sophisticated, libertarian-leaning members of the Republican coalition as well as their staid religious counterparts. But at the same time he was hotwiring Republican culture and pushing it to the limits of street-legality, anti-P.C. critics saw another revolution happening within liberal politics — and, by the transitive property, pop culture writ large. In their eyes, Hillary Clinton’s campaign represented the triumph of a pro-establishment cultural nanny state that rejected Obama’s attempted de-escalation of the culture wars in favor of a rigid new etiquette of social justice: A rainbow flag hoisted, in effect, over the Bushes’ Kennebunkport compound.

One of Trump’s early adopters articulated the mindset perfectly in August 2015, back when Jeb! was still his closest primary threat: “I am voting for Donald Trump. I don’t care if he’s a joke. I don’t care if he’s racist. I don’t care if he’s sexist. I don’t care about any of it. I hope he stays in the race and I hope he wins. Why? Because I love the fact that he is making other politicians squirm. I love the fact he says shit nobody else will say, regardless of how ridiculous it is.”

No points for guessing the author: Dave Portnoy, birthing the Barstool Republican with a single 200-word blog post. Trump transformed the political landscape by tapping into a powerful desire for freedom from criticism or censure — a desire that Portnoy shared, and which has only grown more intense and widespread as the panopticon of social media becomes the primary stage for not just national politics, but civic life at every level.

In a column this February for The Week, the Catholic social conservative writer Matthew Walther referred to “Barstool conservatives” as primarily sharing a “disdain for the language of liberal improvement, the hectoring, schoolmarmish attitude of Democratic politicians and their allies in the media, and, above all, the elevation of risk-aversion to the level of a first-order principle by our professional classes.” In other words: culture-war issues.

Oddly enough, despite the inherent thirst for conflict that it brings, the ascent of Barstool-ism within the Republican Party can be chalked up to ideological diversity within the GOP. What could unite free-market libertarians, revanchist Catholics, Southern evangelicals, and working-class Reagan Democrats but their shared hatred of… actual Democrats?

With that as the party’s guiding principle, and no clear policy agenda to speak of — the 2020 RNC literally did not have a new policy platform — those willing to trash the Democratic cultural regime most loudly and consistently are firmly in command, with more staid Republicans forced to at least provide cover, if not actively follow their cues.

They’re forced to defend freshman North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the face of his attention-seeking tweets and allegations of sexual harassment from his (very recent) college days, while he ranks in the top 10 members of Congress in missed votes. They’re forced to defend Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as he faces his own allegations of sexual impropriety — not to mention his frat-boy antics, like showing up to Congress in a gas mask in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic. They’re forced to defend Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert as she fends off complaints from constituents about her “embarrassing” freshman term in Congress, after winning a primary and general election largely on the strength of her, well, bar ownership.

So just as anti-P.C., vaguely amoral Barstool-ism can be a strength, it can also be a weakness. In a media environment built to reinforce and intensify one’s ideological beliefs, being on the attack all the time can leave you in an exhausting state of constant defense. Yes, it can galvanize — nearly 75 million people voted to re-elect Donald Trump, the Stoolie-in-chief — but it can also exasperate and infuriate in turn — a record 81 million Americans voted for Trump’s purposely less-pugilistic opponent, Joe Biden. It also runs the risk of all novelty: that people might just bore of it. Yesterday’s provocation becomes today’s status quo, and in turn tomorrow’s epic cringe.

When Republican voters made Trump their presidential nominee in 2016, they chose gloves-off culture war over either Jeb Bush’s earnest compromise or the imitations of a careerist provocateur like Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump tapped into a very real dissatisfaction in the American electorate with the liberal status quo around speech and culture, and reaped both the attendant rewards and backlash. Someone like Dave Portnoy is, if not a viable presidential candidate, at least a credible successor to the role of the office’s last Republican occupant: Trump, Gaetz, Boebert, Cawthorn and their ilk all share Portnoy’s single-minded obsession with scoring headlines and affirming their constituents’ cultural identities at any cost.

In a media-obsessed world, it’s a powerful, intoxicating skill. And now that it’s proven a viable pathway to electoral success, Republicans are — perhaps wisely — clinging to it for dear life. As a creation of Judd Apatow, the 21st century’s great dorm-room comedy auteur, once said: “Pandora doesn’t go back in the box, he only comes out.”

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Driver crashes into Florida Pride parade; mayor says 1 dead

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Driver crashes into Florida Pride parade; mayor says 1 dead

News outlets reported that the driver of the pickup truck was taken into custody. Authorities did not immediately give details about the victims or say whether they believe the crash was intentional.

“This is a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” Trantalis told reporters. “This is exactly what it is. Hardly an accident.”

Photos and video from the scene showed Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in tears while in a convertible at the parade. A spokesperson for Wasserman Schultz did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Spectator Christina Currie told the South Florida SunSentinel that she was with her family at the start of the parade.

“All of a sudden there was a loud revving of a truck and a crash through a fence,” Currie said. “It was definitely an intentional act right across the lanes of traffic.”

Wilton Manors police tweeted Saturday night that the public is not in danger.

“A tragic incident occurred at today’s Stonewall event,” Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton said in a statement, according to WPLG-TV. “Out of respect for everyone involved, the parade has been canceled and a thorough investigation is being conducted.”

June is Pride Month, commemorating the June 1969 police raid targeting gay patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York that led to an uprising of LGBTQ Americans and served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement.

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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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