Rep. Matt Gaetz is trying to turn an ongoing sex-trafficking investigation into a rallying cry. The Florida Republican said he is “built for battle” in what was his first major public appearance since it was revealed that the Justice Department was investigating whether he broke sex trafficking laws and if he had sex with a 17-year-old. Gaetz spoke on Friday at an event held by the group Women for America First at former President Donald Trump’s club Trump National Doral Miami and characterized the investigations as an ideological attack. He took a page right out of the Trump playbook and characterized himself as someone who is suffering the repercussions of being a truth-teller in the swamp.
“They lie about me because I tell the truth about them, and I’m not gonna stop,” Gaetz said, painting the investigations as an attack on his supporters. “So when you see the leaks and the lies and the falsehoods and the smears, when you see the anonymous sources and insiders forecasting my demise, know this: They aren’t really coming for me. They’re coming for you. I’m just in the way.” Gaetz, sounding a lot like Trump, said he was being investigated because they want him silenced. “I know this: Firebrands don’t retreat, especially when the battle for the soul of our country calls,” he said. “Big government, big tech, big business, big media — they’d all breathe a sigh of relief if I were no longer in the Congress fighting for you.”
Ultimately, Gaetz “did exactly what defense lawyers and establishment types in politics and media say an embattled pol shouldn’t do,” notes Politico. He spoke off the cuff and attacked everyone as he uses the investigation to rile up supporters and raise money to pay for his legal fees. But he’s speaking at a time when the walls seem to be closing in. Now it seems clear that Gaetz’s friend, Joel Greenberg, who has been charged with sex trafficking of a minor, is ready to negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors and could very well cooperate as a witness against the Florida lawmaker. Gaetz has reportedly told people involved in Florida politics he met women through Greenberg.
Gaetz sounded a defiant tone shortly after the House Ethics Committee on Friday opened an investigation into the lawmaker’s conduct. The committee said it was aware of claims that Gaetz may have engaged in “sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct.”