Political threat to Conservative Republican MP Matt Gaetz heightened Friday when the often-fancy Trump-style provocateur appeared politically isolated amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking.
Few Republicans rushed to offer any assistance to the three-time Florida Congressman, who is known for advocating large-scale attacks, sometimes against his own party, during his frequent media appearances. Several GOP lawmakers and top advisors, who asked for anonymity to discuss the delicate situation, said Gaetz’s prospects to stay in Congress are bleak and particularly complicated by his unpopularity among colleagues in his own party.
Federal prosecutors are currently investigating whether Gaetz and a political ally facing sex trafficking allegations may have 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 review emerged from an investigation by the Justice Department of political ally Joel Greenberg. Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, was charged last year on a number of federal crimes. He did not plead guilty.
Republican Congress leaders have remained largely silent about the investigation, which continues.
This reflected the seriousness of the allegations in a story that seems to add new elements every day and gives lawmakers little motivation to commit to Gaetz.
Part of the investigation is looking into whether 38-year-old Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old and other underage girls in violation of state sex trafficking laws, people familiar with the investigation told the AP. Federal agents suspect Greenberg seduced the girls and introduced some of them to Gaetz, and they are checking to see if both men have had sex with the same girls, people said.
Those with knowledge of the investigation were unable to publicly discuss details and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Details of the investigation were first reported in the New York Times.
Gaetz has vehemently denied the allegations and said in a statement earlier this week that “none of the allegations against me are true”.
There have been few surprises for those who have watched the rise of the Congressman in Florida and Washington.
As a former lawmaker, he was well known in Tallahassee before arriving at the nation’s Capitol, where he made a splash when he joined Trump.
Many colleagues on Capitol Hill consider Gaetz obsessed with self-promotion, as evidenced by his numerous television appearances, which are unusually high for a low-ranking legislature who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations. This is Gaetz’s fifth year of the Congress.
They are especially upset at his willingness to publicly take over other Republicans, which many consider to be unnecessarily divisive.
This was most evident when he traveled to Wyoming in January to urge voters there not to re-elect MEP Liz Cheney. Days earlier, Cheney, the GOP leader of House No. 3, was among only 10 House Republicans to vote in favor of the indictment against Trump.
Among the rare lawmakers who support Gaetz is newly minted GOP MP Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, another rising figure in the GOP who is fueled by her media appearances and social media use to spread baseless conspiracy theories.
Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Chairman, R-Calif., Told reporters this week that the allegations against Gaetz were “serious.”
The Gaetz investigation, which has been going on since at least the summer of 2020, reached the highest levels of the Justice Department and former Attorney General William Barr has been briefed on the matter several times.
In the past few months, investigators have also interviewed several witnesses in the case and examined documents, including travel and financial records.
Greenberg was the chosen tax collector in Seminole County, near Orlando, when he resigned last June after being arrested on federal charges. These initially included persecuting a political opponent, trafficking minors for sex, and illegally using a government database to create fake driver’s licenses and other IDs.
Since then, the case against Greenberg has risen to more than 30 charges, including wire fraud and other charges that attempted to divert at least $ 400,000 from the tax office into a cryptocurrency he controls and for his personal use like buying memorabilia from federal attorneys NBA greats Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant signed, federal prosecutors say. Other charges accuse him of using two companies he controls to try fraudulently to raise funds for coronavirus aid.
Gaetz has said the allegations against him were part of a blackmail scheme by a Florida attorney who served as a federal attorney decades ago and whom Gaetz identified as David McGee.
In response, McGee’s law firm said the allegation Gaetz made about the alleged blackmail attempt was “both false and defamatory”. The firm said McGee held senior positions with the US law firm in Florida about 25 years ago and that his “reputation for integrity and ethical behavior is impeccable.”
The Justice Department conducted a separate investigation into the extortion allegations brought out of the US law firm in North Florida, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was also unable to discuss the matter publicly and who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Gaetz has said that his family worked with the FBI and that, on the orders of the FBI, his father wore a recording device “to catch these criminals”. He also asked the Justice Department to publish the recordings.
The Justice Department did not comment.