Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) PR strategy in the wake of the revelation that he is under investigation for alleged sex trafficking has been baffling to observers, as his enthusiastic media availability has done less to clear his name than to offer up confusing subplots and introduce potential further crimes into the mix.
That bizarre tactic continued Sunday night, when his office blasted out a press release, on official letterhead, about a former employee holding a Monday press briefing about a “recent encounter with the FBI.”
Retired Air Force Capt. Nathan Nelson, previously Gaetz’s director of military affairs for four years, held a very brief press conference Monday in front of what appeared to be his home.
He told reporters that last Wednesday afternoon, two members of the FBI had come to his house “unannounced” saying that members of the media had contacted them asserting that he, Nelson, had knowledge about Gaetz engaging in illegal activities, which prompted his departure from his Gaetz’s office.
Nelson denied the claims, saying that neither he nor any other member of Gaetz’s staff had any knowledge of Gaetz’s alleged involvement in any illegal activity. He added that his departure from Gaetz’s office at the end of October was long-planned.
“This baseless claim against me leaves me further convinced that the allegations against Congressman Gaetz are likewise fabricated and merely an attempt to discredit a very vocal conservative,” he said.
When asked if he had proof that the allegations against Gaetz were false, he said that he was not there to offer evidence in support of Gaetz. He did say that he had reached out to Gaetz’s office to let them know about the conversation with the FBI.
If Gaetz was hoping for a full-throated character defense from his former staffer — who said he still advises the congressman’s office in an unpaid, “as-needed” advisory capacity — he’ll be disappointed.
Nelson was quick to distance himself from the beleaguered congressman, saying he hadn’t spoken to him directly in “several months.” He also said that he’d never met Joel Greenberg, Gaetz’s friend and the former Seminole County tax collector who was indicted in August 2020 for alleged sex trafficking of a child. The Gaetz probe, the Times reported, is an offshoot of the Greenberg one.
It was only at a reporter’s prompting, at the end of the event, that Nelson offered up something akin to a character defense.
He said that Gaetz has been a “very, very vocal advocate for northwest Florida,” a “powerhouse in D.C.” and a “strong congressman.” Though he offered no evidence of Gaetz’s innocence, he pointed to the congressman’s affinity for the limelight.
“He has spent the last four years drawing a tremendous amount of spotlight on himself and his activities, and I don’t think that he would likewise be conducting anything illegal,” Nelson said.
On the first count, few would disagree.
Gaetz’s love of being the center of attention has spanned the scandal so far, from his befuddling and potentially incriminating interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson last week to his blithely on-the-record quotes about his father wearing a wire for a supposed FBI sting. Gaetz has claimed that the “false sex allegations,” reportedly concerning his alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old where he may have paid for her to travel, are actually part of an elaborate extortion plot by a former Justice Department official seeking $25 million.
That former official, David McGee, told the Daily Beast last week that Gaetz’s claims were “completely, totally false.”
“This is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that Matt Gaetz is apparently about to indicted for sex trafficking underage girls,” he added.
Gaetz also penned an op-ed for the Washington Examiner published Monday, in which he maintains his innocence and says that he will not resign.
“First, I have never, ever paid for sex,” he wrote. “And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old.”
In the piece, he doesn’t mention his wild extortion claims, saying only that he’s “sure some partisan crooks in Merrick Garland’s Justice Department want to pervert the truth and the law to go after me,” adding that he “will not be intimidated or extorted.”
Assertions of innocence out of the way, Gaetz predicted what, so far, has been the central theme of the fast-moving scandal: more revelations to come.
“You’ll see more ‘drip, drip, drip’ of leaks into the media from the corrupt Justice Department and others,” he wrote.