On Tuesday evening, news broke that Florida Republican Matt Gaetz is being investigated by the Department of Justice over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him. The New York Times reports that Gaetz, a long-term ally of former President Trump who is best known for opportunistically revealing the existence of an adult son that he had kept hidden for years, is being investigated for violating federal sex trafficking laws.
According to three people briefed on the matter, the scrutiny of Gaetz’s conduct is part of a larger investigation into his political ally, local Florida official Joel Greenberg. Greenberg was indicted last summer on charges which included both the sex trafficking of a child, as well as financially supporting a number of people—at least one of whom was an underage girl—in exchange for sex. Two of the people briefed on the investigation into Gaetz said that it began during the final months of Trump’s time in office under Attorney General William P. Barr.
In an interview, Gaetz claimed that his lawyers had been in touch with the DOJ and had only been told he was the subject of an investigation. “I only know that it has to do with women,” said Gaetz. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.” Welp, there’s certainly not any deliberate obfuscation going on here!
Gaetz also gave a short interview to Axios, during which he claimed that the allegations were part of an extortion scheme being run by a former Justice Department employee and provided screenshots of texts, emails, and other documents as evidence of the alleged scheme. “The allegations against me are as searing as they are false,” Gaetz said. “I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy.” Gaetz told Axios that he was “absolutely” confident that none of the women he had dated were underage.
“I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated,” said the Florida representative. “You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.” Of course! The Department of Justice is clearly just confused by the incredible and overwhelming generosity of Gaetz, a man who once got a woman sentenced to 15 days in jail for throwing a drink at him.
Gaetz also responded to the allegations in a truly bizarre Twitter thread, in which he reiterates his claim from previous interviews that the accusations are part of an elaborate extortion attempt by an unnamed former DOJ official.
“Over the past several weeks my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name. We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals. The planted leak to the FBI tonight was intended to thwart that investigation. No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation. I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.”
Now I have to imagine that if Gaetz’s father was actually wearing a wire, that covert FBI investigation would be sabotaged by Gaetz tweeting about it for anyone to read.
Earlier on Tuesday, rumors surfaced that Gaetz was not planning to seek reelection and was even considering leaving Congress early in order to become a media personality. With how things are going, perhaps the Florida representative will be leaving Congress even earlier than he’d planned.