The New York Times reported late Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department over a possible sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
Citing three unnamed people briefed on the matter, the Times reported that investigators are examining whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws. Federal statues make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Associated Press spoke with an unnamed person familiar with the case, who confirmed Gaetz is under investigation to determine if he violated sex trafficking laws.
The probe has been underway for nearly a year and Gaetz has been aware for months that he was under investigation, the person told the AP.
Gaetz told the Times in an interview that his lawyers had talked with the Justice Department and that they were told the 38-year-old congressman was a subject, not the target, of an investigation.
“I only know that it has to do with women,” Gaetz told the Times. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Axios spoke with Gaetz, who confirmed that he is under federal investigation for sexual misconduct.
“The allegations against me are as searing as they are false,” Gaetz said in a 13-minute phone interview with Axios. “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 has not been charged and it’s not yet clear what his criminal exposure is, the Times reported.
Gaetz took to Twitter later Tuesday evening and said in a series of tweets:
“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.”
Gaetz then appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, where he participated in what Carlson later called “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever done.”
Elected to Congress in 2016, Gaetz became a close ally of former President Donald Trump and a frequent guest on Fox News. He’s also nurtured a close relationship with Gov. Ron DeSantis, serving on his transition team in 2018 before DeSantis took office. The son of a former state senate president, Gaetz served in the Florida House from 2010 to 2016, where he honed an Twitter troll persona that anticipated the smash mouth politics of the Trump era.
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Three people familiar with the case told the Times that Gaetz was part of a larger investigation into a political ally, Joel Greenberg. Greenberg resigned as Seminole County’s tax collector in early March after being charged last summer with 14 counts of child sex trafficking.
He and Gaetz visited the White House in 2019, according to a photo Greenberg posted on Twitter.
Gaetz is a popular figure in Florida conservative politics and his name is frequently mentioned whenever contenders for future races like U.S. Senate or Florida attorney general are discussed. Just last week, Gaetz was spotted at the Florida Capitol with his fiance, Ginger Luckey.
His political trajectory seemed upward and onward, which was why it was surprising last week when Axios reported that Gaetz was considering retiring from Congress to take a job at Newsmax.