The story of the Justice Department’s investigation into possible child sex trafficking by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz grew even stranger on Wednesday when texts detailing a subsequent request for $25 million were published by The Washington Post.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that the DOJ is investigating whether Gaetz had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl two years ago and whether he paid for her to travel across state lines for sex. Gaetz denied that the 17-year-old existed and claimed the report was linked to an extortion attempt.
But the Post reports that the investigation began well before the alleged extortion, having been signed off on by then-Attorney General Bill Barr during the Trump administration.
According to ABC News, Barr was briefed on the progress of the investigation multiple times.
According to Politico, Barr went out of his way to avoid being seen with Gaetz during the probe.
Alleged extortion plot revealed:
Months into the probe, two men who learned of the investigation messaged Don Gaetz, the congressman’s wealthy father, to ask for $25 million to aid their search for missing FBI Agent Robert Levinson, who was taken hostage in Iran, in return for helping to make the case go away.
The men -- former Air Force intelligence analyst Bob Kent and Florida developer Stephen Alford -- told Gaetz they learned he is “under investigation by the FBI for various public corruption and public integrity issues” and claimed the FBI had photos of Gaetz in a “sexual orgy with underage prostitutes.”
“In exchange for the funds being arranged, and upon the release of Mr. Levinson, the team that delivers Mr. Levinson to the President of The United States shall strongly advocate that President Biden issue a Presidential Pardon, or instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving Congressman Gaetz," the men said in a document detailing their dubious plan, which they named “Operation Homecoming.”
Don Gaetz reported the request to the FBI and offered to wear a wire in a meeting regarding the plan, which he described as extortion.
But the Post notes that an extortion charge would be difficult to prove in court given that the men did not threaten to expose Gaetz nor were the men actually connected to the probe.
The men asked Gaetz to give the money to former DOJ lawyer David McGee, a lawyer for the Levinson family whom Matt Gaetz accused of orchestrating the whole thing, which McGee strongly denied. McGee was also not involved with the probe.
Investigation not limited to one minor:
ABC News reported that the DOJ investigation into Gaetz extends beyond his alleged relationship with the 17-year-old and includes his conduct in beyond his home state of Florida.
The document provided to the Gaetz family by Kent and Alford claims that the DOJ is investigating the congressman for numerous “public corruption and public integrity issues” as well as sex trafficking.
It’s unclear how the men learned of the alleged probe.
Alford himself previously faced fraud and extortion charges and served 10 years in federal prison.