Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is under investigation by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to take trips with him, The New York Times reports.
The DOJ is looking at whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws. Federal law bars bringing someone under 18 across state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money, the report noted.
The trips took place about two years ago when the girl was 17.
The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration while Bill Barr was still attorney general. Senior DOJ officials were notified of the probe.
The investigation into Gaetz is connected to a larger probe into his political ally Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax official who was indicted for child sex trafficking and other crimes last year.
“I only know that it has to do with women,” Gaetz told The Times. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Gaetz says he’s being extorted:
Gaetz told Axios that he is being extorted by a former DOJ official.
"The allegations against me are as searing as they are false," he said. "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 the allegations are “are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away."
"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," he claimed on Twitter. "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."
Gaetz defends on Fox News:
Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show Tuesday to deny the allegation and dragged the host into the scandal.
“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,” Gaetz told a puzzled-faced Carlson.
“I don’t remember the woman you are speaking of or the context at all, honestly,” Carlson replied.
Gaetz denied that his friend was 17 and said “providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”
Gaetz said former DOJ official David McGee was responsible for the extortion, which McGee denied.
“That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted,” Carlson said afterward. “I don’t think that clarified much.”