The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to determine 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 Tuesday, citing three unnamed people briefed on the matter.
Gaetz told the Times that his lawyers had been in touch with the Justice Department, but that they were told he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation.
“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.”
The Times reported that it was not clear how old Gaetz understood the 17-year-old girl to be at the time of the encounters, about two years ago.
The probe, reportedly opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General Bill Barr, was said to be part of a larger investigation into Gaetz’s political ally Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, who was indicted last summer on sex trafficking and other charges.
Great catching up with @mattgaetz and @RogerJStoneJr pic.twitter.com/46SjAsiL42
— Joel Greenberg (@JoelGreenbergTC) July 9, 2017
Gaetz’s criminal exposure is unclear, the Times said.
Last June, when Greenberg was indicted for allegedly stalking a political rival, authorities seized his electronic devices and allegedly discovered evidence that he was falsifying ID cards for himself and a teenage girl, the Times reported.
The sex trafficking indictment followed two months later.
Shortly after the Times published its report on the Justice Department’s investigation into Gaetz, the Florida congressman denied allegations of sexual misconduct to Axios.
“The allegations of sexual misconduct against me are false,” Gaetz told Axios. “They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away.”
Axios reported that Gaetz shared screenshots of text messages, emails and documents outlining the alleged extortion scheme, which the Florida congressman claimed was being headed up by a former DOJ employee.
According to Axios, Gaetz said that he and his father been working with the FBI in the Northern District of Florida on the extortion case for weeks. Gaetz additionally claimed that his lawyers were informed by the DOJ that he “was not a target but a subject of an investigation regarding sexual conduct with women.”
Gaetz went on to argue that he was simply being “generous” to women he dated in the past.
“I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated. You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner,”” Gaetz told Axios. “I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”
Gaetz told Axios that he was “absolutely” confident that he did not date anyone who was underage.
Gaetz repeated his denial of the sexual misconduct allegations as well as his claims of a supposed extortion scheme in a series of tweets Tuesday evening.
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.
We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter…
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) March 30, 2021
…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.
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) March 30, 2021
Earlier Tuesday, Axios also reported that Gaetz privately disclosed to confidants that he is seriously considering an early retirement from Congress to take a job at Newsmax — the right-wing network that former President Trump and his allies turned to after Fox News projected Joe Biden’s election victory in Arizona before other cable news network called it. It would be a curious step for a sitting member of Congress, but not unprecedented. Former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz joined the ranks of Fox after departing politics.
According to Axios, Gaetz expressed interest in becoming a media personality and toyed with the idea of taking on a role at Newsmax. A source told Axios that Gaetz has had early discussions with Newsmax about what his position would entail.