Gaetz Could Be Washington’s Latest High-Profile Defamation Defendant

We have been discussing a slew of defamation actions this year. Indeed, for a torts professor, this could prove the golden age of defamation.  Recently, new such cases were filed against Fox News, CNN, and various public figures.  Those cases join various cases against figures like Donald Trump, who recently lost a major ruling.  It now seems likely that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz will be sued in the ongoing scandal involving allegations of sex trafficking.  Like many, I was surprised to watch Tucker Carlson’s interview with Gaetz on the first night of the scandal and hear Gaetz identify by name (and law firm) the lawyer who he claims was extorting him. That lawyer is former Justice Department lawyer David McGee, who presumably will be filing a libel action against the congressman.  This could prove a “double tap” for Gaetz, 38, who could face a criminal charge and a civil lawsuit as a result of the scandal.

Gaetz denies that he ever had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl. Instead, he offered an elaborate account of an effort to extort him for $25 million in a bizarre plan to secure the release of hostage Robert Levinson, a former DEA and FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007. Levinson is believed to have been on a mission for the CIA at the time.

Gaetz released a statement that “Over the past several weeks my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name.”

David McGee served for the Department of Justice and has practiced law for 37 years. He now practices in Florida at the firm Beggs & Lane.

Both Gaetz and McGee refer to a call that McGee had with the Gaetz’s father, who reportedly taped the call at the request of the FBI.  Both Gaetz and McGee insist that the call will clear them. Unidentified sources deny that the call contains the extortion demand by McGee.

If Gaetz’s account is false, this is a particularly strong defamation case.  The extortion allegation would fall into a per se category of defamation. Those per se categories commonly include (1) “imputation of certain crimes” to the plaintiff; (2) “imputation . . . of a loathsome disease” to the plaintiff; (3) “imputation . . . of unchastity to a woman;” or (4) defamation “affecting the plaintiff in his business, trade, profession, or office.”   In Florida, the courts describe such actions in the following way:

“A written publication constitutes libel per se under Florida law if, when considered alone and without innuendo, it (1) charges that a person has committed an infamous crime; (2) tends to subject one to hatred, distrust, ridicule, contempt, or disgrace; or (3) tends to injure one in his trade or profession.”

Alan v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 604 F. App’x 863, 865 (11th Cir. 2015).

This would satisfy both per se categories for alleging criminal conduct and impugning a professional reputation. Broadcast news is treated as libel rather than slander in most states, though there are also written statements by Gaetz to support a libel charge (with presumed damages). “The significance of the classification of a communication as actionable per se lies in the fact that its victim need not plead or prove malice (except where a privilege is involved) or special damage because malice and the occureence [sic] of damage are both presumed from the nature of the defamation.” Wolfson v. Kirk, 273 So. 2d 774, 777 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1973).

One question will be the legal status of McGee and whether he constitutes a public figure.

This issue will turn on Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 352 (1974) and its progeny of cases.  The Supreme Court has held that public figure status applies when someone “thrust[s] himself into the vortex of [the] public issue [and] engage[s] the public’s attention in an attempt to influence its outcome.” A limited-purpose public figure status applies if someone voluntarily “draw[s] attention to himself” or allows himself to become part of a controversy “as a fulcrum to create public discussion.” Wolston v. Reader’s Digest Association, 443 U.S. 157, 168 (1979).

The standard for defamation for public figures and officials in the United States is the product of a decision decades ago in New York Times v. Sullivan. This is precisely the environment in which the opinion was written and he is precisely the type of plaintiff that the opinion was meant to deter. The Supreme Court ruled that tort law could not be used to overcome First Amendment protections for free speech or the free press. The Court sought to create “breathing space” for the media by articulating that standard that now applies to both public officials and public figures.

McGee is likely a public figure since he has handled high-profile cases and engaged in public interviews. If so, in order to prevail, McGee must show either actual knowledge of its falsity or a reckless disregard of the truth.

That is usually a very difficult standard to satisfy but this case may be an exception.  Gaetz maintains an open and direct extortion demand: $25 million and the sex trafficking allegations would go away.  Gaetz further maintains the call will show such a scheme.

It is hard to believe that the call shows such clear extortion when the FBI was listening and did not arrest McGee.  Instead, sources indicate that it is Gaetz who is facing a criminal charge in conjunction with Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector who was charged last summer with sex trafficking.

We still have surprisingly little confirmation on basic facts like the very existence of this underaged girl. However, a defamation case would seem obvious if this call is not the smoking gun evidence claimed by Gaetz.

42 thoughts on “Gaetz Could Be Washington’s Latest High-Profile Defamation Defendant”

  1. I’m so excited. ReportsSay is indeed our most prestigious emoter of the truth unvarnished by political bias. ReportsSay has the skinny on every Washington story. ReportsSay never says a single word out of malicious intent. Reports say is a very wise fellow. He knows that those of the Washington Post, The NY Times, CNN, and MSNBC will declare his reports to be true every time. ReportsSay knows that he is much more powerful than RetractionsSay and he has his lackeys on this forum to declare that “If the reports are true” RepotsSay will never have to come back with his unfreinded friend MyBad. Example: Russia, Russia, Russia. He knows there will be compliant hounds sniffing for his special scent. ReportsSay is either an altruistic god trying to save us all or he is an evil genius bent on the destruction of half the population. YouDecide.

  2. “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

    – William Casey, CIA Director

  3. We shall soon discover if Rudy Giuliani, Sydney Powell, Mike Lindell and Matt Gaetz are, in fact, that monumentally and categorically oblivious.

    Professor Turley has Gaetz tried, convicted and sentenced by implication, which seems to be a similar transgression.

  4. One would hope intelligent people would be highly suspect of the media reporting surrounding these allegations, and will reserve judgement until we have the facts. However, this hope I fear is the definition of a pipe dream.

  5. Methinks me smells the putrid hand of Christofer Steele in the formation of these findings. The pattern of the earmarks should be duly noted. The smearing of potential Republican candidates for President has begun. Read my prediction, De Santis will be next. I am wondering if Twitter and Facebook will block the attacks on Gaetz. The question is, will you be fooled again?

  6. The first priority is to not believe anything reported in the media that is not supported with evidence; regardless of the outlet. The second priority is to get the evidence before drawing conclusions. The narrative have that same sensational feel as the pee pee tape (Steele Dossier). Time to load up on my supply of popcorn.

  7. “It is hard to believe that the call shows such clear extortion when the FBI was listening and did not arrest McGee.”

    The professor makes a reasonable point, but an extortionate lawyer would know how to weasel word things to avoid being charged as such.

    McGee has some explaining of his own. Why did McGee call the multimillionaire father in the first place? And if it was just a personal call, why did the father bring in the FBI? Maybe the father setup McGee, but it will help McGee’s defamation case a lot if there is a documentable reason–not an extortionate one–for such a phone call.

    If it can be demonstrated McGee had knowledge of the investigation, he also needs to have a darn good explanation for that knowledge that doesn’t involve an illegal leak. In the context of leaked information, his phone call to the multimillionaire father would be alarming.

    I get the impression the Professor is backtracking somewhat from his previous blog, but I think it’s far from clear McGee has defamation all wrapped up.

    Curious what our other attorneys think about this.

    1. I agree with FactsMatter below. For the record, I’m not making declarative statements about McGee’s guilt or innocence. I’m just raising reasonable questions about his involvement in a matter under federal investigation that has been leaked to the press and possibly others.

  8. This is a very strange saga indeed. But, since we don’t know the real facts yet, it is unwise to make comments on the truth or falsity of anything we have heard or read to date. The NYT has not show itself to be totally truthful to be trusted in whatever they say.
    I watched the Tucker interview of Gaetz, and was left with nothing but bewilderment.
    No sense thinking we can solve this mystery, without many more facts.
    We shall see what we shall see?

  9. Defame! Defame!
    Emmanuel!
    I come to thee from Is ri ell!
    God bless you marry gentlemen who pork on DC Day.
    You spend the night in Congress for a role in the hay!
    Go back to where you came from and pay for each bad kay!
    Seeking tidings and comfort and boys.

  10. The Gaetz family came over to n. America from Yugoslavia. When they got to NY the guy stole a mule and had sex with it at some amusement park.

    1. This is the defamation that JT was talking about liberty2nd. You may think you are funny, but a defamation lawsuit won’t be a joke.

  11. Attorney’s and Politicians pointing fingers at one another…..tell me it ain’t so!

    In the same breath I see the discussion having a sharp focus upon the McGee Case and ignoring the Elias Case….one being just another run of the. mill DC escapade and the other one that involves subverting a National Election, corrupting the FBI, destroying the legitimacy of the FISA Court….which also involved a large number of crooked Lawyers.

    As much as I value Jonathan Turley’s commentaries…..even JT is ignoring the big story and the glaring issue that underlies all of this….Lawyers who break the Law they are supposed to follow and the absolute immunity from prosecution they seem to enjoy.

    I would like to see an analysis of that situation by Professor Turley. Please!

    1. Compare this request for another Turley column with the way the Lefties put their “requests “.

      The Conservative says “please “, while the Lefties often start with “Turley, GFY”.

      More and more, I look at Lefties with contempt – they often rude, illogical, and dishonest.

      Read some of the Lefty posts and those characteristics shine through.

  12. My guess, this is more slime from the Democrat Party assisted by the media. It’s too early to draw more than a guess. Time will tell, but we have seen the left wing sliming over and over again anyone that acts as a threat to their power.

    1. S. Meyer – No surprise that the far left want to destroy Congressman Gaetz – a fine, god-fearing man from a fine family (and I’ve seen no evidence that their business
      got wealthy via corporate healthcare welfare aka socialism). Mr. Gaetz hasn’t likely done anything that god-loving Donald Trump. Epstein et.al haven’t done – so what’s the big deal? I say let the man continue to protect and advance the interests of the moneyed class. His boys will be boys stuff is no big woof.

      1. “advance the interests of the moneyed class”

        Bill, do you recognize who the moneyed class is? Do you consider Jeff Bezos, Dorsey, almost all of the billionaire high tech moguls, Hollywood Stars to be in the non moneyed class group? I’m having a hard time hearing you.

        My opinions are based on what is good for the country and that means the working middle class families. You don’t seem concerned about their welfare.

        Have you thought about who gets hurt from the various policies? Apparently not. Who do you think gets hurt when the price of energy and gas go up? Middle class families that need cars, heat, A/C, all the products derived from hydro carbons etc. When you add it all up that is a pretty big tax. Who gets hurt when the schools are locked down, the rich that send their children to private schools or the poor that can’t afford a computer and the middle class family where both parents can no longer work. That is another big tax. Who gets hurt when the economy does poorly? Do you think that stops the rich from enjoying themselves? No, but the middle class loses its jobs and income stream.

        With what you support, how can you believe that you don’t want to advance the interest of the moneyed class when that is exactly what the policies you support do.

  13. Jonathan: It’s not just defamation suits Matt Gaetz is facing. The NY Times is reporting that Luke Ball, Communications director for Gaetz, has resigned amid the widening scandal. Ball sees the handwriting on the wall. The Times also now has records of payments Gaetz made to several women he met at Florida hotels in exchange for sex. You just have to wonder what Gaetz’s fiancee is thinking about now. If she’s smart she will give back the ring. CNN is also reporting that Gaetz often boasted to other members of Congress about his sexual conquests–sharing photos of naked women he had slept with. What a sleeze! Now Gaetz is so toxic among House members only Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene have come to his defense. Even Fox News, where you often appear to echo the Fox talking point of the day, says it wants nothing to do with Gaetz after there were reports they were in talks with Gaetz for a job. If Gaetz is charged with sex trafficking that probably explains why, back in 2017, he was the sole “No” vote against a human-trafficking bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate and by a vote of 418-1 (Gaetz) in the House. Gaetz has always been a loyal Trump supporter and probably felt he had the former president’s back. Had Gaetz been charged, tried and convicted last year no doubt Trump would have bestowed a pardon on Gaetz. Maybe federal prosecutors have waited for a reason.

    1. Don’t forget the reports of him allegedly sharing the illegal drug Ecstasy with his “dates.” I’m sure that the people who condemn Hunter Biden’s drug use will do the same for Gaetz.

  14. Me thinks there are plenty of republicans in Congress who wouldn’t be too sad to see Gaetz gone. ( very much like there being plenty of Democrats who wouldn’t cry over Cuomo being pushed out of office).

    This is a crazy story : sex, underage sex, association with another under investigation for possible underage sex, sex trafficking, international shadowy figures, Iran hostages et al. all reported from a DOJ employee leak to the NYT, who is not cited by name in the story.

    Gaetz ought to confer with Bob Melendez , odd bedfellows.

    1. Deb: Crazy story, indeed. Someone should start working on a screenplay.

      “All the world’s a stage.”
      William Shakespeare

  15. This prosecutor wouldn’t go after a Democrat. Liberalism is a mental disorder. If it wasn’t for the coronavirus, Trump would’ve won in a landslide and the Democratic party would’ve (deservingly) been destroyed. What a shame!

  16. This looks to me like a public smear of Gaetz by the current regime and its running dog media, just as was done to Trump. However, Gaetz’s assertion of an extortion scheme does not rule out the underage sex charges. Gaetz appeared on the Bannon show and admitted that in his younger days he would put girlfriends on planes and bring them to him. To me this is something a playboy would do. However, these charges, even if false, will probably ruin Gaetz’s political career.

  17. Gaetz on Newsmax: …“US taxpayer money flows through the State Dept. through USAID and that money is ending up in the hands of NGOs that are advertising for and facilitating the caravans and movements of people into our country. It’s sad to admit it but, the US government may be one of the biggest human traffickers in the world because even after we get these folks, the policies of Joe Biden have us just sending them all around the country on a catch and release policy that Donald Trump had reversed with great success.” IMO, this is why they targeted Gaetz, now.

  18. No idea of guilt or innocence, but the Washington cesspool is full of scum.

    Don’t know how to clean Washington up, but we as a nation deserve better.

    This case reeks of corruption, privilege, legal shenanigans, and influence.

    Not what we want in Washington.

  19. Given the political climate these days, the accusations may enhance as opposed to disparage the attorney’s standing in his community, .Sort of a badge of honor.

    1. That is one of the very things that us horrifying normal citizens. It is being proven, over and over, that Justice is only a “thing” that was never intended to apply to conservatives. Disgusting.

      1. It is being proven, over and over, that Justice is only a “thing” that was never intended to apply to the political class.

        FIFY. Now you won’t appear to be just another useful idiot for the Left.

        You’re welcome.

    2. Are you suggesting that there’s a conservative subculture eager to roll back the rights of underage girls to go about free from sexual exploitation by adult men? I thought this was an area of law enforcement that was agreed upon by both the left and the right.

      1. “thought this was an area of law enforcement that was agreed upon by both the left and the right.”

        Outwardly, on the surface, yes.

        But it isn’t nearly as simple as the “left and the right” when it comes to the elitist role players in Congress.

        They are all members of the same club that benefits from the us versus them partisan Dialectic constantly engaged in by the citizens of this country.

        Why do you think Ghislaine Maxwell is still alive?

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