Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing three people briefed on the matter.
If Gaetz paid for a 17-year-old he was engaged with sexually to travel with him, it could constitute a violation of federal sex trafficking laws.
The investigation into Gaetz, who made a name for himself in Congress as a media-savvy defender of former President Trump, opened in the final months of Trump’s time in office and is reportedly part of a larger investigation into a Florida official and ally named Joel Greenberg, who was charged with sex trafficking last summer. Prosecutors said that in 2017 Greenberg “recruited” a girl between 14 and 17 and “solicited” her for sex in exchange for favors. The Times notes that it is unclear how Gaetz became involved in the investigation.
What is clear is that Gaetz and Greenberg were acquainted — at least. Greenberg posted a photo of himself, Gaetz, and Trump ally Roger Stone to Twitter in July 2017, during the time period prosecutors said Greenberg was recruiting the minor in question for sex. Great catching up with @mattgaetz and @RogerJStoneJr,” the caption read.
— Joel Greenberg (@JoelGreenbergTC) July 9, 2017
Later that year, Gaetz was the only member of Congress to vote against a bill that would have created an anti-human trafficking committee within the Department of Transportation. In a Facebook Live video defending the vote, Gaetz described the bill as federal “mission creep,” noting that “voters in Northwest Florida did not send me to Washington to go and create more federal government.”
In a statement provided to Rolling Stone on Tuesday, Gaetz claimed a former Justice Department official is trying to extort him.
“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,” he wrote. “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 New York Times 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.”
In interviews with the Times and Axios, Gaetz said that the allegations are the result of bad actors trying to, as he put it to the Times, “recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.” He stressed to Axios that the allegations are “false” and 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 added that he “paid for flights, for hotel rooms” for women he dated when he was single, and that he was “absolutely” confident none of them were minors.