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

We’ve been talking a slew of defamation activities this past year. Indeed, to get a torts scientist, that could prove the golden age of defamation.  Those instances join several cases against figures like Donald Trump, who lost a major ruling.  It now appears likely that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz will be sued in the ongoing scandal involving allegations of sex trafficking.  Like many, I was surprised to see Tucker Carlson’s interview with Gaetz about the first night of this scandal and hear Gaetz identify by name (and law firm) the attorney who he claims had been extorting him. This attorney is former Justice Department attorney David McGee, that presumably will be filing a libel action against the congressman.  This could establish a”double tap” to get Gaetz, 38, who could face a criminal complaint and also a civil lawsuit as a consequence of the scandal.
Gaetz denies that he ever had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl. Rather, he offered an elaborate account of an effort to extort him for $25 million in a bizarre strategy 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 already been on a mission for the CIA at that moment.
Gaetz released a statement that”Within the last several weeks my family and I were victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official looking $25 million while threatening to smear my name”
David McGee functioned to the Department of Justice and has practiced law for 37 decades. He now practices in Florida at the company Beggs & Lane.
Both Gaetz and McGee refer to a call that McGee had with the Gaetz’s father, who allegedly recorded the call at the request of the FBI.  Both Gaetz and McGee insist that the call will clean them. Unidentified sources deny that the call comprises the extortion requirement by McGee.
In case Gaetz’s accounts is untrue, this is a particularly strong defamation case.  The extortion allegation would fall to a per se category of defamation. In Florida, the judges clarify such activities in the next way:

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

Alan v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 604 F. App’x 863, 865 (11th Cir. 2015).
This could fulfill both per se categories for alleging criminal behaviour and impugning an expert standing. Broadcast information is handled as libel as opposed to slander in the majority of states, though there are also written statements by Gaetz to support a libel fee (with presumed damages). “The significance of the classification of a communicating as incremental 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 considered 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 standing of McGee and if 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 instances.  The Supreme Court has held that public figure standing applies when someone”push [s] himself to the vortex of both [the] public problem [and] participate [s] the public’s attention in an effort to affect its outcome” A limited-purpose public figure standing applies if someone willingly”draw[s] attention to himself” or allows himself to become part of a controversy”as a fulcrum to create public conversation.”  Wolston v. Reader’s Digest Association, 443 U.S. 157, 168 (1979).
The standard for defamation for public officials and figures at the United States is the product of a decision decades ago in New York Times v. Sullivan. This is exactly the environment in which the opinion was written and he is precisely the sort of plaintiff which the ruling was supposed to deter. The Supreme Court ruled that tort law would not be able to be utilized to overcome First Amendment protections for free speech or the free media. The Court sought to create”breathing room” to your media by articulating that standard that now applies to public officials and public figures.
McGee is probably a public figure because he’s handled high-profile events and participated in general interviews. If that’s the case, to be able to prevail, McGee must show either actual knowledge of its falsity or a reckless disregard of the truth.
That is normally a very hard standard to satisfy but this situation might be an exception.  Gaetz asserts 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’s hard to think that the call shows such obvious extortion when the FBI was listening and did not arrest McGee.  Rather, sources indicate that it’s Gaetz who’s facing a criminal complaint in conjunction with Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector that had been charged last summer with sexual trafficking.
We still have surprisingly small confirmation on basic details like the very existence of the underaged girl. However, a defamation case would appear clear if this call isn’t the smoking gun proof claimed by Gaetz.