Political danger to conservative Republican Representative Matt Gaetz was heightened on Friday when the often bizarre Trump-style provocateur appeared politically isolated amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking.
Few Republicans rushed to provide any kind of support to the three-time Florida congressman known for his large-scale attacks – sometimes against those in his own party – during his frequent media appearances. Several GOP lawmakers and top aides who asked anonymity to discuss the sensitive situation said Gaetz’s prospects of remaining in Congress were bleak and complicated in particular by his unpopularity among colleagues in his own party.
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Gaetz and a political ally dealing with sex trafficking allegations paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday.
Gaetz’s investigation stemmed from the Justice Department’s investigation into its political ally, Joel Greenberg, the people said. Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, was charged last year and is charged with a number of federal crimes. He pleaded not guilty.
Republican congressional leaders have largely been silent on the investigation, which continues.
That reflected the seriousness of the allegations in a story that seems to be adding new elements by the day, leaving lawmakers with little motivation to bond with Gaetz.
Part of the investigation is to investigate whether Gaetz, 38, has had sex with a 17-year-old and other underage girls and violated federal sex trafficking laws, people familiar with the probe told the AP. Federal agents suspect that Greenberg seduced the girls and then introduced some of them to Gaetz, and they are investigating whether both men had sex with the same girls, the people said.
Those with knowledge of the investigation could not publicly discuss details and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Details of the investigation were first reported by The New York Times.
Gaetz has vehemently denied the allegations, saying in a statement earlier this week that “none of the allegations against me are true.”
For those who have seen the rise of the Congressman in Florida and Washington, there were few surprises.
A former state legislator, he was widely known in Tallahassee before arriving at the nation’s Capitol, where he made a splash by attaching himself to Trump.
Many colleagues on Capitol Hill view Gaetz as obsessed with self-promotion, as illustrated by his numerous television appearances that are unusually high for a lawmaker who does not hold a high position, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations. This is Gaetz’s fifth year in Congress.
They are especially angry about his willingness to take it publicly against fellow Republicans, which many believe is unnecessarily divisive.
That was most evident when he traveled to Wyoming in January to urge voters there, Rep. Liz Cheney not to choose again. Days earlier, Cheney, the No. 3 House GOP leader, was one of only 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump.
One of the few lawmakers to support Gaetz is freshman GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, another rising figure in the GOP, driven by her media appearances and using social media to spread baseless conspiracy theories.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Told reporters this week that allegations against Gaetz were “serious.”
The Gaetz investigation, which has been ongoing since the summer of 2020, reached the highest levels of the Justice Department, and former Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the matter several times, the people said.
In recent months, detectives have also interviewed several witnesses in the case and examined documents, including travel and financial records, the people said.
Greenberg was the chosen tax collector in Seminole County near Orlando when he resigned last June following his arrest on federal charges. Initially, these included stalking a political opponent, trafficking a minor for sex, and illegally using a state database to create forged driver’s licenses and other identity cards.
Since then, the case against Greenberg has exploded to more than 30 charges, including wire fraud and other charges related to attempts to divert at least $ 400,000 from the tax office into cryptocurrency he controlled and for his own personal use, such as the purchase of memorabilia. autographed by NBA greats Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, federal prosecutors say. Other charges accuse him of using two companies he controlled to try fraudulently to obtain funds for coronavirus.
Gaetz has said the charges against him are part of a plot involving extortion by a Florida attorney who worked as a federal prosecutor decades ago who identified Gaetz as David McGee.
In response, McGee’s law firm said that the accusation Gaetz made about the alleged extortion attempt was “both false and defamatory.” The firm said that McGee had held top positions at the US Florida law firm about 25 years ago and that his “reputation for integrity and ethical conduct was impeccable.”
The Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into the racketeering allegations, leading from the U.S. attorney’s office in northern Florida, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who was also unable to discuss the matter publicly. and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Gaetz has said his family worked with the FBI and that his father carried a recording device, under the direction of the FBI, “to catch these criminals.” He also demanded that the Justice Department release the recordings.
The Justice Department has not commented.