Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Politics

Jim Greer trial raises hopes, fears among Republicans

TALLAHASSEE — Who wins if next week's criminal trial of former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer is a prolonged public affair airing all of the party's dirty laundry?

Some think Gov. Rick Scott would like a drawn-out drama just in case something falls on former Gov. Charlie Crist, a potential 2014 opponent who hired Greer and is listed as a witness for both sides. Scott is about the only Republican in town who had nothing to do with the party before he was elected in 2010 and it's likely he has never met Greer.

Republicans running the party these days hate Greer and don't appear to have any culpability in the accusations against him of fraud, money laundering and grand theft. They also hate Crist for hiring Greer and switching parties. So they don't have much to lose if the trial gets ugly.

Some Republicans, particularly lobbyists who are entangled in the drama as witnesses, just want it all to end.

Greer fuels the hope of memorable theatrics with every interview, promising a Shakespearean tragedy in which "everyone dies in the end.'' He maintains he is an innocent victim of right-wing officials who were angry at Crist and vows to show us what goes on behind the curtain in the Florida GOP.

Damon Chase, the Lake Mary lawyer who represents him, is downright hostile to any suggestion that Greer might consider a plea bargain before his date Monday with an Orlando jury, but most defendants get around to considering it when evidence against them mounts.

The party would also like to get rid of the civil suit Greer filed in an effort to collect the $130,000 he was promised when he agreed to resign as chairman in 2010.

The civil suit remains on hold until the criminal case is settled, steadily lining the pockets of lawyers who have collected more than $816,000 to represent the party and former leaders named in the lawsuit. Like many courtroom battles, the party could have paid the debt several times over for what the legal efforts have cost.

So I guess we could put the lawyers in the category of those who don't want this to go away.

Scott supporters worry that Crist is shaping up to become the governor's most credible opponent in a state where opinion polls continue to indicate Crist could win against all known candidates. Greer has made a lot of allegations against Crist, but public opinion appears to be ignoring him.

Ordinarily, you could expect Democrats to root for a full-blown trial that might embarrass Republicans, but they are a bit conflicted because one of the Republicans involved is now a Democrat with a chance of recapturing the Governor's Mansion. That's a real dilemma. On the one hand, they want to embarrass Greer and GOP legislators, but at the same time they don't want to damage their own chances.

As much as Greer would like to torpedo Crist, it's hard to see how it happens in a courtroom where testimony would likely be restricted to the criminal charges, so Greer's suggestion that Crist is gay or drinks too much wouldn't fit in. And although Greer has accused his party of hatching voter-suppression plans, it would likely be a stretch to say it had something to do with the money he is accused of stealing.

Republicans can blame Crist for hiring Greer in the first place, but the former governor has repeatedly reported Greer and his lawyer for attempts to tamper with his testimony. Crist says he didn't know that Greer created Victory Strategies, a fundraising company that collected about $200,000 above and beyond what he was already being paid.

Greer is accused of steering the money to the corporation he secretly created with Delmar Johnson, former executive director of the party. Johnson has been given immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony against Greer.

The witness list besides Crist is a who's who of the Florida GOP: former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, former Attorney General Bill McCollum, former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, along with past and current House speakers Dean Cannon, Tom Feeney, John Thrasher and Will Weatherford.

Some wonder whether Attorney General Pam Bondi will help her friend Gov. Scott and push statewide prosecutors who report to her to reject any suggestion of a plea bargain so we get a trial.

If reporters got a vote, we'd support whatever produces the most news and that would clearly be a trial in which a bunch of politicians get to display their failing memories. Bring it on.

Contact Lucy Morgan at (850) 224-7263 or [email protected].

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