Dear Commons Community,
A federal investigation on sex trafficking involving Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz was initiated during the Trump administration while Attorney General William Barr was in office. Specifically, Gaetz is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences, It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing. As reported by the New York Times.
“… examination of Mr. Gaetz, 38, is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl.
Mr. Greenberg, who has since resigned his post as tax collector in Seminole County, north of Orlando, visited the White House with Mr. Gaetz in 2019, according to a photograph that Mr. Greenberg posted on Twitter.
No charges have been brought against Mr. Gaetz, and the extent of his criminal exposure is unclear.
Mr. Gaetz said in an interview that his lawyers had been in touch with the Justice Department and that they were told he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation. “I only know that it has to do with women,” Mr. Gaetz said. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Mr. Gaetz called the investigation part of an elaborate scheme involving “false sex allegations” to extort him and his family for $25 million that began this month. He said he and his father, Don Gaetz, had been cooperating with the F.B.I. and “wearing a wire” after they were approached by people saying they could make the investigation “go away.” Mr. Gaetz claimed the disclosure of the sex trafficking inquiry was intended to thwart an investigation into the extortion plot.
In a second interview later Tuesday, the congressman said he had no plans to resign his House seat and denied that he had romantic relationships with minors. “It is verifiably false that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman,” he said.
Representatives for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Central Florida.
Mr. Greenberg pleaded not guilty last year and was sent to jail this month for violating the terms of his bail. He is scheduled to go on trial in June in Orlando.
A frequent presence on Fox News and other conservative media, Mr. Gaetz has recently mused with confidants about quitting elected politics and taking a full-time job with the conservative television channel Newsmax or another network, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Axios first reported on Tuesday that Mr. Gaetz was considering leaving Congress.
Mr. Greenberg maintained ties to controversial figures who have supported Mr. Trump, an examination of court records, social media posts and far-right websites showed. A website run by a member of the far-right group the Proud Boys and a network of fake social media accounts linked to Mr. Trump’s longtime political adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. have promoted false accusations about Mr. Greenberg’s rivals similar to rumors that prosecutors accused Mr. Greenberg of secretly trying to spread.
It was not clear how Mr. Greenberg knew either Mr. Gaetz or Mr. Stone. He posted a selfie with both in 2017, tweeting, “Great catching up.” The following year, Mr. Gaetz expressed support for Mr. Greenberg’s successful bid for local office, predicting he would someday make a great member of Congress.”
Mr. Gaetz has been a regular on Fox News and has staged attention by outlandish rhetoric and antics such as wearing a gas mask on the House floor last year during the pandemic, insisting he was demonstrating concern for public safety amid accusations he was mocking the seriousness of the spread of the coronavirus.