Exclusive details: Will Jim Greer destroy Charlie Crist's political future?
When former state Republican party chairman Jim Greer goes on trial next year on charges of fraud and money laundering, plenty of prominent politicians may be squirming as the inner workings of the party are exposed.
There's former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who recommended Greer for the post and earned $150,000 consulting for the party while Greer was chairman. Now a candidate for U.S. Senate, LeMieux is trying to distance himself from his part in the Charlie Crist/Jim Greer political team, while Greer says LeMieux knew about most everything Greer did that led to his indictment.
Current and former legislators, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, could see their free-wheeling spending of state party money put back on display.
And there's Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and former state party chairman and current state Sen. John Thrasher. They signed a secret $124,000 severance package with Greer so he would resign and keep his mouth shut.
"They just destroyed my life for no reason," a tearful Greer said of the legislative leaders last week on WTSP-Ch. 10.
Greer knows the secrets of the state party like few others. As legislative leaders are deposed by Greer's attorneys, there's every indication the former high-flying party boss is looking not just for vindication, but also payback.
But no political figure in Florida has a more complex relationship with Greer than former Gov. Crist. Once the closest of friends who vacationed together with spouses, their bond has reached the point that Crist contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement this summer after receiving a pair of messages from Greer apparently perceived as a threat.
"It was a little cathartic and he was able to vent," Greer attorney Damon Chase said of the voice mail and text messages Greer left for Crist. "But there's not a single threat in there anywhere. It's merely: 'I don't want to be friends anymore, stop calling and pretending you're my friend.' "
To understand how dramatically the Crist/Greer relationship has deteriorated and how intertwined their political fortunes are, rewind the clock more than two years.
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In May 2009, Gov. Crist basked in approval ratings of more than 70 percent while Rubio was an obscure former Miami legislator on a quixotic campaign to challenge the leader of his party for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. Still, Rubio was generating buzz in national political circles, and Crist's media consultant urged a strategy meeting as soon as possible in an e-mail to Crist's top political advisers — Greer, chief of staff Eric Eikenberg and Washington lobbyist Mitch Bainwol.
"This has the feel of becoming a cause,'' consultant Stuart Stevens e-mailed. "I am flat out concerned about this spinning into a nasty dynamic. I've done a zillion primaries. ... There is nothing I like about this dynamic as presently constructed. If MR represents Hispanics and conservatives, those are two key groups CC needs in 2010 and beyond. It complicates everything."
Greer, according to internal Crist campaign e-mails exclusively obtained by the St. Petersburg Times, quickly jumped into action. The state party chairman, though restricted under federal campaign finance laws from mingling state party resources with a federal campaign, assumed the role of de facto Crist campaign manager, the e-mails suggest.