Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is under Justice Department investigation over a possible sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, The New York Times reported Tuesday evening.
The newspaper cited “three people briefed on the matter” and reported that the probe began during the final months of the Trump administration. The sources said investigators are looking into whether the conservative firebrand violated sex trafficking laws.
The sources said the Gaetz inquiry is a sideline to an investigation into one of Gaetz’s political allies, Joel Greenberg, who resigned as Seminole County tax collector following his indictment last summer on charges including sex trafficking.
Gaetz, a Republican whose district includes the far western Panhandle, is closely aligned both with Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis. He is best known for his appearances on Fox News and political stunts including wearing a gas mask in the U.S. Capitol during the early days of the COVID pandemic.
Gaetz told The Times that the Justice Department has told his lawyers that he is “the subject, not the target,” of the investigation.
“I only know that it has to do with women,” Gaetz told the newspaper. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
The news follows reports, including this one by Axios, that Gaetz was considering leaving Congress to take a broadcasting job with Newsmax, the conservative outlet.
Also rumored is that Gaetz might contemplate a run for the statewide Florida Agriculture Commissioner, according to various news outlets. Current Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is a Democrat.
Update: Gaetz published a denial of wrongdoing on his Twitter feed.
“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,” he wrote.
“And my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals. The planted leak to the FBI 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.”
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix