Few in GOP rush to defend Gaetz amid sex-trafficking probe
The political peril for conservative Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz deepened Friday as the often outlandish, Trump-styled provocateur appeared politically isolated amid a federal sex-trafficking investigation.
Few Republicans rushed to offer any kind of support to the three-term Florida congressman known for espousing high-volume attacks — sometimes against those in his own party — during his frequent media appearances. Several GOP lawmakers and top aides who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive situation said Gaetz’s prospects for remaining in Congress were bleak and were complicated in particular by his unpopularity among colleagues in his own party.
Federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and a political ally who is 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.
The scrutiny of Gaetz stemmed from the Justice Department’s probe into the political ally, Joel Greenberg, the people said. Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, was indicted last year and is accused of multiple federal crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.
Orange suspect faces four counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.
Republican congressional leaders have largely been silent about the investigation, which continues.
That reflected the serious nature of the charges in a story that seems to add new elements by the day, giving lawmakers little motivation to attach themselves to Gaetz.
Part of the investigation is examining whether Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old and other underage girls and violated federal sex-trafficking laws, the people familiar with the probe told the AP. Federal agents suspect Greenberg may have enticed the girls, then introduced some of them to Gaetz, and they are examining whether both men had sex with the same girls, the people said.
The people with knowledge of the investigation could not discuss details publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Details of the investigation were first reported by the New York Times.
Gaetz has vehemently denied the allegations and said in a statement earlier this week: “No part of the allegations against me are true.”
As a former state legislator, Gaetz was widely known in Tallahassee before arriving in Washington, where he made a splash attaching himself to President Trump. This is Gaetz’s fifth year in Congress.
Many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill are upset with his willingness to publicly take on fellow Republicans, which some consider needlessly divisive.
That was on display in January, when he traveled to Wyoming to urge voters there to not reelect Rep. Liz Cheney. Days earlier, Cheney, the No. 3 House GOP leader, was among 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump.
Among the few lawmakers to express support for Gaetz is freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, another rising figure in the GOP propelled by her media appearances and use of social media to spread baseless conspiracy theories.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) told reporters this week that the accusations 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 Atty. Gen. William Barr was briefed on the matter several times, the people said.
In the last few months, investigators have interviewed several witnesses in the case and have been scrutinizing documents, including travel and financial records, the people said.
Greenberg resigned last June as the elected tax collector in Seminole County near Orlando after his arrest on federal charges. Initially, those included stalking a political opponent, trafficking a minor for sex and illegally using a state database to create fake drivers licenses and other ID cards.
Since then, the case against Greenberg has ballooned to more than 30 charges, including wire fraud and charges involving efforts to divert at least $400,000 from the office of the tax collectors into cryptocurrency he controlled for his 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 attempt to fraudulently obtain coronavirus relief funds.
Gaetz has said the allegations against him are part of an extortion plot by an attorney in Florida, who worked decades ago as a federal prosecutor and whom Gaetz identified as David McGee.
In response, McGee’s law firm said the allegation Gaetz made about an extortion attempt was “both false and defamatory.” The firm said McGee served in top positions at the U.S. attorney’s office in Florida about 25 years ago, and his “reputation for integrity and ethical conduct was impeccable.”
The Justice Department has a separate investigation into the extortion allegation, being led out of the U.S. attorney’s office in northern Florida, according to a person familiar with the investigation who could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Gaetz has said his family has been cooperating with the FBI and his father was wearing a recording device, at the FBI’s direction, “to catch these criminals.” He also demanded that the Justice Department release the recordings.
The Justice Department has not commented.
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