Matt Gaetz Under DOJ Investigation Over Possible Underage Relationship

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According to a new report from The New York Times, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), a Trump enthusiast, is under investigation by federal authorities at the Justice Department in connection to a possible sexual relationship that he had with a 17-year-old girl. As part of the investigation, authorities are looking at whether Gaetz “paid for [the possible victim] to travel with him,” according to the Times. This behavior would be a violation of federal laws against sex trafficking. The Times notes that the Justice Department “regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.”

The encounters between Gaetz and his possible victim took place about two years ago, according to the Times. That timeline would place the interactions during his time in Congress, to which he was first elected in 2016 in the same wave of Republican support that put Trump in the White House. According to sources for the Times, “senior” officials at the Justice Department, including a selection of Trump appointees, were made aware of the Gaetz investigation, the publication says. The investigation was opened towards the close of the Trump administration, while Bill Barr was still on the job as U.S. Attorney General.

According to sources for the Times, the investigation of Gaetz is connected to investigative efforts targeting Joel Greenberg, an ex-tax collector for Seminole County, Florida, who visited the White House with Gaetz in 2019 and posted a photograph online of himself, the Congressman, and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone in 2017. Greenberg was indicted last summer on charges including child sex trafficking, and he is apparently currently in jail after violating the terms of his bail. Greenberg’s original connection with Gaetz (and Stone) is unclear, although as a caption for his 2017 photo including the three of them, Greenberg said that it was “Great catching up.”

Gaetz responded to questioning from the Times with characteristic flippancy. As he put it, discussing the investigation:

‘I only know that it has to do with women. I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.’

To be clear: the investigation doesn’t merely have “to do with women.” It is an investigation into potential child sex trafficking. He clearly seems to know more than he’s letting on, because his insistence that he’s been generous to “ex-girlfriends” implies that he was aware of at least some form of the allegation that he paid for a 17-year-old to travel with him under the pretenses of a sexual relationship.

Gaetz spoke in more detail to Axios, telling the publication the following:

‘The allegations against me are as searing as they are false. 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 insisted that he was “absolutely” sure that none of the individuals with whom he had relationships during that period were underage. He also claimed that the allegations “are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away,” but it’s unclear how real that this alleged extortion scheme targeting the Gaetzs actually is. Republicans tend to fall back on (oftentimes extremely outlandish) conspiracy theories during tough circumstances.

Notably, in 2017, Gaetz “was the only member of Congress to vote against a law that gave the federal government more power and money to fight human trafficking,” according to the Times. At the time, he insisted that his constituents “did not send [him] to Washington to go and create more federal government.”

On the same day that the Times released their report about the investigation into Gaetz, Axios released a report revealing that the Congressman had apparently been contemplating leaving Congress “early” in order to take a job in the right-wing media ecosystem at an outlet like Newsmax, a pro-Trump outlet.