Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., has said a Justice Department inquiry into him for an alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl is part of an extortion attempt against his family.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Gaetz, 38, was under investigation for possibly paying for a 17-year-old to cross state lines and then have sex with him about two years ago. Gaetz could be charged under the Mann Act, which prohibits bringing anyone across state lines "with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense."
The age of sexual consent in Florida is 18, and Gaetz has not been charged with any crimes at the state or federal level.
The investigation was opened last year during President Donald Trump’s administration, which took the allegations against Gaetz seriously, according to Katie Benner, an author of the story who covers the Justice Department for the Times.
After the report was published, Gaetz told Axios, “The allegations against me are as searing as they are false. 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 claimed he and his family were actually working with the FBI because they had "been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name." Gaetz’s father, Donald, is a former president of the Florida state Senate.
"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," Gaetz said.
The former DOJ official in question is attorney David McGee, who in a Washington Post interview denied any involvement other than saying that the elder Gaetz had reached out to talk to him on a subject about which McGee would not elaborate. McGee said he wasn’t involved in the Justice Department investigation or any attempts to extort the family.
“It is completely false. It’s a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors,” McGee said, adding, “I have no connection with that case at all, other than [being] one of a thousand people who have heard the rumors.”
Gaetz went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show Tuesday evening to further explain his situation, saying that the girl in the Times story “doesn’t exist.”
“I have not had a relationship with a 17-year-old,” Gaetz said. “That is totally false. The allegation is, I read it in the New York Times, is that I've traveled with some 17-year-old in some relationship. That is false, and records will bear that out to be false.”
“Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime,” he said.
During the Carlson interview, the congressman said the extortion attempt began on March 16 when “people were talking about a minor and that there were pictures of me with child prostitutes. That’s obviously false. There will be no such pictures, because no such thing happened.”
Gaetz attempted to pull Carlson into the story, telling him, “I can say that, actually, you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine, you'll remember her. And she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn't cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme that she could face trouble.”
“I don't remember the woman you're speaking of,” Carlson said, “or the context at all.”
Later in the broadcast, Carlson noted, “That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
“I don’t think that clarified much, but it certainly showed this is a deeply interesting story,” he added.
The Gaetz allegations appear to have sprung from an investigation into Joel Greenberg, a onetime Florida Republican official who was indicted last summer on 14 charges, including sex trafficking a minor, using a state database to create fake IDs and stalking a political opponent. A 2017 photo showed Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector, with Gaetz and Republican operative Roger Stone. Greenberg also posted a photo with Gaetz outside the White House to his Twitter account in 2019.
Gaetz was elected in 2016 and represents the state’s First Congressional District, which includes much of the Florida Panhandle. He’s been an outspoken Trump supporter and cable news fixture who has made headlines for stunts like wearing a gas mask when Congress was discussing COVID-19 legislation in March 2020.
Hours before the New York Times story on the investigation was published, Axios reported that Gaetz was considering an early retirement from Congress to take a position with the conservative outlet Newsmax. Gaetz is engaged to Ginger Luckey, 26, whom he proposed to on Dec. 30 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
In 2017, Gaetz was the only "no" vote on a human trafficking bill that was passed unanimously by the Senate and by a 418-1 count in the House.
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