Matt Gaetz Claims Sex Probe Is Part of Extortion Scheme

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Rep. Matt Gaetz Claims There’s an Elaborate Extortion Scheme Against Him After Report on DOJ Sex Trafficking Investigation

The New York Times on Tuesday reported that the U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating whether Rep. Matt Gaetz, now 38, a Florida Republican and staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, paid a 17-year-old girl to travel with him while the pair was engaged in a sexual relationship.

The Times report is sourced to “three” anonymous “people briefed on the matter.” No charges had been filed as of the time of the report, but Gaetz told Axios on Tuesday that he fears charges against him may be coming. He later tweeted that the Times report was based on a leak he believed was an attempt to stymie an elaborate extortion investigation he claimed to be helping the feds build against his accusers — whom he said may have included a former DOJ employee who was out to shake his family down for money.

Per the Times:

Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. 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, according to two of the people.

The report goes on to say that the investigation began when Trump was still in office and William Barr was still the attorney general. Trump administration officials were notified of the probe, the report says.

Gaetz told the Times that he believed he was the subject of an investigation — but 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.”

Gaetz told Axios that any “allegations of sexual misconduct against” him were “false.”

“They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million . . . in exchange for making this case go away,” he added.

Gaetz told the outlet that he believed a former DOJ employee was running what he believed to be an “extortion” scheme against him.

Axios said Gaetz sounded “shaken” in a 13-minute-long phone call during which he discussed the allegations.

“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,” he reportedly said. He noted that he had been told “very little” about the DOJ probe and that he was “absolutely” certain (his word) that “none of the women were underage” (Axios’s words).

“I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated,” Gaetz told Axios. “You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”

Axios suggested earlier Tuesday that Gaetz may be on the verge of considering a new career in conservative media.

The Times reported that the DOJ probe is part of a “broader investigation into . . . political ally . . . 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.”

Greenberg is a former local official. He pleaded not guilty but ended up back in jail recently “for violating the terms of his bail,” the Times noted. The newspaper also reminded readers that Gaetz voted against a human trafficking law in 2017. He said that his rationale for doing so was because he believed in abolishing federal agencies.

Late Tuesday, Gaetz took to Twitter to press the theory that people were out to get him:

“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,” Gaetz said in a chain of tweets. “We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter . . . 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.”

Later on Tuesday, Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson‘s eponymous Fox News broadcast to assert similar statements.

“I do believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to smear me,” Gaetz said. “Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”

The lawmaker decried what he called the lack of a “legitimate investigation” which “permute[d]” into an alleged extortion attempt.

Carlson asked if it was true that Gaetz had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

“Who is this girl?” Carlson asked. “What are they talking about?”

“The person doesn’t exist. I have not had a relationship with a 17-year-old,” Gaetz said.

“That is false, and records will bear that out to be false,” he said with reference to the allegations within the underlying New York Times report.

Gaetz said one of his relatives was supposed “transfer” money tomorrow to “implicate . . . former DOJ officials” in what he alleges was an attempt to extort his family. He said the New York Times obtained information which was leaked to stymie that alleged sting operation and implored the DOJ to release audio tapes he said would clear his name.

“What is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official,” Gaetz said.  “On March 16, my father got a text message demanding a meeting wherein a person demanded $25 million in exchange for making horrible sex trafficking allegations against me go away.  Our family was so troubled by that — we went to the local FBI.  The FBI and the Department of Justice were so concerned about this attempted extortion of a member of Congress that they asked my dad to wear a wire — which he did with the former Department of Justice official.”

Watch the Fox News segment here via our sister site Mediaite.

[Image via NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images]

[Editor’s note:  This piece has been updated to include a portion of Gaetz’s comments to Fox News.]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University.  He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now a Senior Editor for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only.  You should not rely on it for legal advice.  Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.  This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.  Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.