It’s been a very busy day for Florida congressman and loyal Trump supporter Matt Gaetz! On Tuesday morning, Axios reported that Gaetz was considering not seeking reelection in order to take a job at far-right cable network Newsmax. Later in the day, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department was investigating allegations that two years ago, Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl whose travel he allegedly paid for. If Gaetz induced the girl to cross state lines to have sex with him, he would have violated a number of federal anti–sex trafficking statutes, offenses that often result in serious prison time. Shortly after the New York Times story was published, Gaetz claimed in a Twitter thread that the sex trafficking allegations were false and in fact had been deliberately planted as part of a criminal extortion scheme whose perpetrators included a former Department of Justice official. Gaetz went on to claim that he and his father, former Florida state Sen. Don Gaetz, were participating in an FBI sting operation to catch the extortionists, and called on the Department of Justice to release the tapes his father made while wearing a wire at their direction. Gaetz finished his day by giving a bizarre interview to Tucker Carlson denying the allegations.
Gaetz, who first attracted national attention as a state representative by fiercely defending Florida’s “stand your ground” laws, has long been known for provoking controversy. He called for Donald Trump to fire Robert Mueller, tweeted threatening things at Michael Cohen the night before his congressional testimony, wore a gas mask on the House floor last March to mock coronavirus precautions, supported the fraudulent objections to the presidential election results, and falsely claimed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol had been instigated by left-wing double agents. The Axios story reporting that Gaetz had been talking about taking a media job at a pro-Trump cable network instead of seeking reelection—and that, according to one source, he was already talking to the network about it—was not very far out of the ordinary. The same cannot be said for the Times story, which alleges that Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old.
According to the Times, the investigation into Gaetz arose as part of a different investigation into Joel Greenberg, a disgraced Florida politician. Greenberg, the one-time tax collector for Seminole County, was indicted in August for soliciting sex from a minor, along with using his government position to make fake IDs and falsely accusing a political opponent of having a sexual relationship with a minor. Greenberg resigned his post one day after being indicted. It’s unclear at this time what the connection between the Greenberg and Gaetz investigations were, and just as unclear what the connection between Greenberg and Gaetz was. But both men, along with Roger Stone, appear in a photo Greenberg tweeted in July of 2017, and Gaetz and Greenberg were at the White House together in June of 2019.
The Department of Justice investigation into Gaetz was opened at the very end of the Trump administration, and political appointees in the Justice Department were reportedly made aware of it at the time due to Gaetz’s high profile. Gaetz, who has not been criminally charged, at first said that he knew the Department of Justice was looking into something to do with him, but did not believe he was the target of the investigation, telling the Times, “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.” Later, once Gaetz knew the specifics of the allegations, he said it was “verifiably false that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman,” and told the Times that actually the Department of Justice was investigating someone who was trying to extort him for $25 million with false claims of sexual impropriety. After the story broke, Gaetz took to Twitter to elaborate:
Later Tuesday night, Gaetz addressed the allegations on Tucker Carlson Tonight, where, in an apparent plea for sympathy, he brought up an incident in which Tucker Carlson was falsely accused of sexual misconduct. (The host did not seem amused.) The congressman named Florida lawyer David McGee as the “former DOJ official” behind the alleged extortion scheme that he had referenced in his tweets, going on to state that there were definitely no pictures of him with child prostitutes, a claim that no one had publicly made up to that point.
After speaking to Gaetz, Tucker Carlson described the segment as “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”