According to former prosecutors and attorneys who watched Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL ) appear on Fox News and then fire off a series of tweets following the leak that he is under investigation for sex trafficking, the Florida conservative may have critically damaged his defense if he is indicted and headed to trial.
In a report from USA Today, legal experts were stunned that Gaetz’s advisors allowed him to go on Tucker Carlson’s show and discuss the accusations — with Carlson calling the appearance “the weirdest interview I’ve ever conducted” — and then make other public pronouncements
“Denying allegations before charges are filed is rare in general, although more common for political figures as a way to counter accusations in the court of public opinion,” USA Today reports. “Gaetz went on a full-court press when the allegations arose Tuesday, providing print and television interviews to confirm the investigation and promote his extortion claim. His public appearances declined later in the week, but he continued to proclaim his innocence and draw attention to news stories about the probe on Twitter.”
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter called Gaetz’s comments a “tremendous gift” for the investigating Justice Department.
“The reason good lawyers don’t let clients talk to people who are investigating them usually is because it is so dangerous,. Even if you are completely innocent of the actual allegation, you may make statements which either open you up to an allegation that you’re making false statements to obstruct justice or otherwise mislead the investigators,” Cotter explained, adding, “It’s very dangerous because it paints him into a particular story, which later facts may show he’s not telling the truth about or honestly mistaken. It’s a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad idea legally.”
Jimmy Gurulé, a University of Notre Dame law professor and former federal prosecutor concurred.
“If Gaetz is trying to somehow trying to sway public opinion in his favor, which appears to be the case here, I think it comes at a very high price,” Gurulé explained. “There is a substantial downside and incredible risk. I think it’s his ego that is driving his conduct at this point and it’s very dangerous.”
Crisis communication expert Richard Levick added, “The strategy would be: go away. He’s trying desperately to save his career when really what he might want to be saving is his liberty.”
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