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Gaetz Sex Probe Suddenly Threatens a Speedy Washington Rise

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FILE - In this March 7, 2020, file photo, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., fourth from right, and others stand before a dinner with President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Compared with most congressional newbies, it didn’t take Rep. Matt Gaetz long. Phone calls from the president. Rides aboard Air Force One. Hundreds of television appearances. A darling in conservative circles.

Yet barely four years after arriving in Washington as a little-known Republican state legislator from Florida’s Panhandle, the 38-year-old unblushing defender of Donald Trump is facing a possible abrupt end to his once promising career because of a federal sex-trafficking investigation.

The overwhelming reaction of Gaetz’s GOP colleagues — a deafening silence. That reflects the resentments he’s sparked during his breakneck rise as one of the party’s celebrities and the challenge he faces to retain his seat.

Government agents are investigating if Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old and other underage girls and violated federal sex trafficking laws, people familiar with the probe have told the AP. No charges have been filed, and Gaetz has denied the allegations.

But with new, damaging details emerging regularly, Gaetz’s political arc is beginning to resemble the myth of Icarus, who plunged to earth after ignoring warnings that his waxen wings would melt if he flew too close to the sun.

The coming days will test the crisis management skills of one of the most visible members of Congress’ younger generation, who critics say care more about promoting their own brand than serious legislating.

“They’re here for notoriety and to perform to their base, and anything else that may come is secondary,” said Doug Heye, a Trump critic and former top GOP congressional aide. “And if you boo him that’s great too, as long as you’re watching.”

David Bossie, president of Citizens United, which backs conservative causes and candidates, countered that Gaetz “has been a conservative warrior, working every day to make America great again and fight for President Trump’s agenda.”

Gaetz’s congressional Twitter account is topped with a photo of himself taking a selfie with Trump, apparently on Air Force One. On his personal Twitter account, Gaetz describes himself as “Florida man. Fiancé. Firebrand. America First.” He became engaged at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in December.

Gaetz is quick with a quote and looks little older than a college student. And by his own account, he’s hardly led a prudish lifestyle while battling for conservative causes.

In his 2020 autobiographical book, “Firebrand,” Gaetz praised Trump as someone “who doesn’t care for puritanical grandstanding or moralistic preening.” He added, “If politicians’ family lives aren’t what really matter to the voters, maybe that’s a good thing. I’m a representative, not a monk.”

Chris Latvala, a former GOP colleague in the Florida legislature, suggests that while there, Gaetz went too far. On Friday, Latvala revived a 2020 tweet in which he accused Gaetz of creating a “game where members of the FL House got ‘points’ for sleeping with aides, interns, lobbyists, and married legislators.”

Latvala wrote Friday, “ I am just sorry that this guy may have victimized others, including possibly minors before others came forward to verify it.”

The game was also described by two other Florida Republicans, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal what was a private matter. Gaetz has denied knowing about it.

The son of Don Gaetz, a wealthy businessman and one-time Florida state Senate president, Matt Gaetz came to Congress after six years of building his conservative credentials in the state House with pro-gun and other legislation.

Just months after Gaetz arrived in Washington in 2017, when Trump’s presidency also began, special counsel Robert Mueller began investigating Russia’s influence in Trump’s election.

Gaetz sprang into action to defend Trump, filing one resolution asserting investigative wrongdoing aimed at making Mueller resign, and essentially never stopped. His persistence was noted by Trump, who began calling the young lawmaker.

The day before a House hearing on the Russia investigation in 2019, Gaetz tweeted at former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who’d turned on Trump and was about to testify, asking, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” The House Ethics Committee formally admonished Gaetz for the tweet, which some saw as an attempt at intimidation, and he apologized.

Gaetz was highly visible again months later when the House began its impeachment investigation over Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to provide political dirt on Democrat Joe Biden, who would eventually defeat Trump in the election.

Most notably, Gaetz led a cluster of House Republicans who barged past Capitol Police officers into a secure basement meeting room where House Intelligence Committee members were questioning witnesses. They caused a delay of several hours that had little impact on the probe but garnered press attention.

Gaetz was grabbing the spotlight in other ways, too. He brought a white nationalist who questioned the Holocaust as his guest to Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address, later claiming ignorance of the man’s views.

In March 2020 as the pandemic was taking hold, Gaetz wore a gas mask on the House floor. Critics accused him of downplaying COVID-19, as Trump repeatedly did, but Gaetz asserted he was calling attention to lawmakers’ vulnerability to the disease.

All the while, his visibility was growing. Gaetz has made 346 weekday cable news appearances since August 2017, according to Media Matters, a liberal group that monitors conservative media activity.

That makes Gaetz second in Congress only to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a fellow Trump ally and ubiquitous TV presence.

Through it all, Gaetz has shown no hesitation to criticize fellow Republicans.

In a 2020 tweet, he accused Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., of “screwing all Americans” by dumping stock using insider information as the coronavirus pandemic was starting. The Justice Department investigated Burr but brought no charges.

In Gaetz’s book, in a first chapter called “Sex and Money,” he wrote that when he arrived in Congress, he asked current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for a seat on the Armed Services Committee. Gaetz wrote that “to my shock,” McCarthy suggested he contribute $75,000 to the House GOP’s campaign committee — a donation Gaetz wrote he actually doubled.

This past January, Gaetz helped spearhead an effort to depose Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from her post as No. 3 House GOP leader after she was among 10 Republicans to vote for Trump’s second impeachment.

Gaetz even traveled to a campaign event in Wyoming, where he urged voters to oppose her 2022 reelection and accused her of ignoring “the will of the people.” Days later, Cheney was reelected to her leadership post.

All of that helped alienate him from many Republicans, several GOP lawmakers and aides said.

Among his only defenders this week has been Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who tweeted, “Take it from me rumors and headlines don’t equal truth.” Greene has become a pariah even among some Republicans for showing support for false and violent sentiments.

Having a deep well of support among colleagues can help a beleaguered lawmakers retain their seat should party leaders begin viewing them as a liability. Ominously, McCarthy has called the charges against Gaetz “serious.”

Gaetz has reportedly had inconclusive discussions with Newsmax, a small pro-Trump television outlet, about working for it or another network. A person close to Newsmax said Friday the network has no plans to hire him as a talent.

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Florida

Tom Keen Picks Up Key Endorsement in Race for Florida House District 35

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Tom Keen, candidate for Florida House District 35. Photo: Tom Keen campaign.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Democrat Tom Keen announced he has received the endorsement of State Senator Victor Torres in his race for the Florida House in District 35. His district will overlap with Senator Torres in Osceola County.

Both Senator Torres and Tom Keen are military veterans. Keen served as a Naval Flight Officer for twenty-one years on active duty. Senator Torres is a former Marine and retired Law Enforcement Officer.

“Tom is the best qualified person to represent voters in District 35,” stated Torres. “His military experience and continued service to the City of Orlando on the Citizen’s Police Review Board demonstrate his commitment, knowledge, and passion to represent our community. He is my choice for District 35.”

Keen stated “I’m running to fund our public schools, protect our environment, and help Florida make brighter choices for our future,” Keen says in his message. He highlighted his commitment to meeting the State’s most urgent needs, like providing immediate tax relief to help with the high cost of gas.

“Floridians are struggling with high cost of fuel today, but Fred Hawkins and Republicans in the Florida House voted to delay the Gas Tax Holiday until right before the November election – we need relief now – not a bribe in October.” said Keen. “May and November are the two months with the fewest tourists – if Republicans were serious about tax relief instead of bribing voters, they would have provided critical tax relief this month.”

Keen collected enough verified signatures to qualify by petition for the 2022 election cycle, a grassroots volunteer effort that lets him connect with voters individually. He has also recently been endorsed by VoteVets and Ironworkers Local 808.

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Education

Orange County Government, Rollins College Announce 3-Year, $4M Partnership to Provide Nonprofit Training Support

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Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings (right) and Rollins College's Crummer Graduate School of Business partnered to announce the launch of the school's nonprofit assistance program. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Orange County Government and the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College today announced a three-year, $4 million partnership to provide nonprofit training support through Crummer’s Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership, the region’s premier source for nonprofit education and management assistance.

Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News

Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News

Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act in Orange County, the program will equip local nonprofits with the tools necessary to succeed in the post-pandemic environment. Specifically targeting small, and diverse Orange County-based nonprofits, Empowering Good: A Nonprofit Capacity Building Project is designed to offer training in five key areas: impact measurement, innovation, financial management, fundraising, and risk management.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings speaks during the press conference announcing Crummer's new program launch. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings speaks during the press conference announcing Crummer’s new program launch. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

“Nonprofits play a central role in the wellbeing of our community here in Orange County. Despite increased demand for their services during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of our community’s nonprofit organizations were being adversely affected by the pandemic in potentially devastating ways, directly impacting essential services in Orange County,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings. “Deploying American Rescue Plan funds in partnership with Crummer’s Edyth Bush Institute will help us provide the resources necessary to ensure the long-term success of our nonprofit community.”

The cohort-style program administered by the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership, will support up to 36 Central Florida nonprofit organizations every six months over the next three years as well as offer organizational assessments and coaching for up to another 15 organizations for a total of 261 nonprofits, starting in September 2022. Training provided by the Edyth Bush Institute throughout each year-long program will include workshops, assessments, coaching/consulting services, and custom programming to address organization-specific challenges.

In assessing how to deploy its American Rescue Plan funding, Orange County Government sought to address needs in six key areas, with one of those areas being small business assistance. Alignment with the Crummer School’s mission to produce global, innovative, and responsible leaders who impact their organizations and communities, as well as the Edyth Bush Institute’s wide-reaching nonprofit network, provided an ideal partnership that would enable the County to bolster small businesses within the regional nonprofit community.

Crummer Graduate School of Business Dean Dr. Deborah Crown speaks during the press conference. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

Crummer Graduate School of Business Dean Dr. Deborah Crown speaks during the press conference. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

“This exciting partnership with the Orange County Government will reach beyond nonprofits to the many organizations and individuals who benefit from their programs and services,” said Dr. Deborah Crown, dean of the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College. “Our incredible staff at the Edyth Bush Institute embrace this opportunity to further guide our local nonprofit leaders to continue to spark innovation and create jobs for our economy.”

Demand for goods and services from nonprofit organizations soared during the pandemic. In April 2020, the Edyth Bush Institute conducted a survey to assess the state of the nonprofit community. The survey found 93.73% of the 287 participating nonprofits reported moderate to significant impact on programs, services or general operations. In addition, 194 nonprofit organizations reported an anticipated revenue decrease of $48 million to $54 million between February 2020 and June 2020.

Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News

Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News

“Nonprofits play a vital role in directly improving the lives of individuals. Their contributions to this community and our economy cannot be overlooked. Yet, the struggles with increasing demand for services and maintaining a robust workforce were real,” said Min Sun Kim, executive director of Crummer’s Edyth Bush Institute of Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership. “This program will allow us to address pandemic and post-pandemic challenges as well as to help leaders position their organizations for long-term success.”

For more information and to access the program application, visit empowering-good.org

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Black Lives

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to Appoint Eric Smith as New Police Chief

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Deputy Chief Eric Smith. Photo: Orlando Police Department.

ORLANDO, FL (FNN) – Today, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced the appointment of Eric Smith, a 27-year Orlando Police Department veteran, as the next Police Chief of the City of Orlando. Smith will serve as the city’s 40th Police Chief.

Last week, Police Chief Orlando Rolón announced his upcoming retirement after more than 29 years of service to the citizens of Orlando.

“Over the past three years, under the leadership of Chief Rolón, OPD has continued to aggressively fight crime, innovate with new technology and further increase transparency with our community,” said Mayor Dyer. “It’s been an honor to work together with Chief Rolón to protect and serve our citizens throughout his tenure with the Orlando Police Department.”

“I am confident that under Chief Smith’s dedicated leadership, the Orlando Police Department will continue to work diligently in protecting our community against crime, while ensuring that every resident is equally protected and respected,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “Chief Smith is well respected by officers and community members and is the right person to lead the department forward.”

A 33-year resident of Orlando, Smith will oversee the day-to-day operations of the department and serve as chief counsel to the Mayor in matters of public safety. During his tenure with the Orlando Police Department, Smith has worked in or supervised three of the four Department Bureaus and 10 of the Department’s 11 Divisions and has been a Deputy Chief for eight years.

Most recently he has served as the Bureau Commander for the Patrol Services Bureau, the largest section of OPD that is comprised of more than 500 sworn officers. He also serves as OPD’s High-Risk Incident Commander where he leads the SWAT Team, Crisis Negotiations Team, Emergency Response Team, Emergency Services Team, and the Crisis Intervention Team. In addition to his regular job assignments, Smith also served more than 19 years as member of the SWAT Team, including the position of Team Commander.

Smith is a graduate of the 269th Session of the FBI National Academy and has also completed the FBI Florida Executive Development Program. In addition to his role with OPD, Smith is actively involved in the community, including service on numerous boards, including YMCA of Central Florida, Valencia College Student Affairs, After-School All-Stars, United Against Poverty, Camaraderie Foundation and the Central Florida Boy Scouts of America.

Rolón’s last day in the office will be August 19, 2022, and his retirement is effective on November 1, 2022. After Rolón’s last day in the office, Smith will serve as Acting Chief and assume the position of Chief of Police on November 2, 2022.

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