In the final months of Trump's administration, an inquiry was submitted against Representative Matt Gaetz, a known ally of the former president. According to three people briefed on the matter, he is currently being investigated by the Justice department over if he indeed had sexual relations with a 17-year old and funded her traveling with him.
There are federal statutes in place that make it illegal to induce someone below 18 to travel to another state to have sex for money or any other thing of value. As such, Matt Gaetz is currently under investigation to determine whether he violated any federal sex trafficking laws.
With this being a common case handled by the Justice Department which often results in offenders getting severe sentences, there are many speculations as to how this would end for Mr. Gaetz.
According to two of those briefed, it is not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the 17-year-old at the time of encounter, which is about 2 years ago.
The investigation opened under Attorney General William P. Barr in the final months of Trump's administration. Those notified included senior Justice Department officials in Washington, including some appointed by Trump.
The three people briefed said that investigation into the 38-year-old Mr. Gaetz is a part of a broader investigation into Joel Greenberg, a political ally of Gaetz. Greenberg was indicted last summer for various charges, including child sex trafficking and financially supporting people for sex, including at least one underage girl.
In 2019, Greenberg and Gaetz visited the White House together, as seen in a photograph that Greenberg posted on Twitter. Although Greenberg has since been indicted and resigned from his post as tax collector in Seminole County, Orlando, Gaetz is yet to be charged. Also, the extent of his criminal exposure is opaque.
What Gaetz Has To Say
In an interview, Gaetz said that his lawyers have been in touch with the Justice Department, who informed them that Mr. Gaetz is the subject, not a target of an investigation. He further said:
"I only know that it has to do with women. I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward."
He called the investigation part of a scheme involving "false sex allegations" to extort $25 million from him and his family. He also mentioned that he and his father, Don Gaetz, have been cooperating with the F.B.I. They even started "wearing a wire" after being approached by people who said they could make the investigation go away.
In another interview on Tuesday, he said emphatically that he has no plans to resign his House seat. He also denied having any romantic relations with a minor. In his words,
"It is verifiably false that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman."
He also claims that the disclosure of this sex trafficking inquiry is aimed at thwarting an investigation into another extortion plot.
Others present refused to comment on the matter. These include representatives of the justice department, the FBI, and a spokeswoman for the U.S attorney's office in Central Florida.
Although Gaetz pleaded not guilty last year, this month, he was sentenced to jail for violating his bail terms. He will go on trial in June in Orlando.
According to one person familiar with conversations he had with some of his confidants, he is thinking about quitting politics and taking on a full-time job at a conservative television channel. On Tuesday, Axios first reported that Gaetz was considering leaving Congress.
Greenberg's Relationship With Gaetz
It is unclear how both men met or got to know each other. Greenberg posted a selfie with Gaetz and Rojer J. Stone, Trump's longtime political adviser, in 2017. He tweeted about it, saying, "Great catching up."
The next year, in 2018, Gaetz showed support for Greenberg, who was then bidding for a local office. He even predicted that someday he would make a great member of Congress. Being one of Trump's staunch supporters and defenders, Gaetz has pretty much embraced the role of villain on Capitol Hill.
At the start of the pandemic, he wore a gas mask and stood on the House floor professing concern for public safety even as accusations of him mocking the seriousness of the virus went around.
Gaetz Political Journey
He was elected to Congress in 2016. He is a member of the Florida State Legislature and a descendant of one Republican political family. Gaetz initially supported former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida before deciding to side with Trump later on, which paid off handsomely. Not only did he become well known, but he also won a seat in Congress representing part of Florida.
In 2018, he invited a right-wing Holocaust denier to the State of Union address in 2018. In 2019, he was among those who barged past Capitol Police into the secure rooms of the House Intelligence Committee to break up investigations against Trump when the issue of impeaching him came up for the first time.
In 2020, despite saying that he distanced himself from the Proud Boys on his podcast, he said that the Proud Boys provided security at an event that occurred in the same year.
He was quick to support Trump's baseless claims of election fraud after his defeat in the last election. He also helped to organize efforts among lawyers to challenge President Joe Biden's victory during Congress' certification on January 6.
Gaetz also traveled to Wyoming to hold a rally against Representative Liz Cheney, one Republican leader who voted for impeaching Trump due to the riot that took place at the Capitol in January.
He even voted against a law that would have given the federal government more power and funds to fight human trafficking in 2017. To justify it, he said in an interview on local television:
"Voters in Northwest Florida did not send me to Washington to go and create more federal government. If anything, we would be abolishing a lot of agencies at the federal level."
His Personal Life
Gaetz is presently engaged to 26-year-old Ginger Luckey, whom he proposed to on December 30 at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club.
Last summer, something he said drew attention to his personal life. He announced that he had a son. What was surprising is that he was not the boy's biological or adoptive father. The 19-year-old Nestor Galban was a younger brother to someone Gaetz had dated. He met him when he was 12.
Gaetz told People magazine:
"He is part of my family story. My work with Nestor, our family, no element of my public service could compare to the joy that our family has brought me."
How Examination Of Gaetz Conduct Came Up
Why the investigation which started with Greenberg led to examining Gaetz remains unclear. All we know presently is that last June, Greenberg was indicted for stalking a political rival.
At the time, federal authorities seized his phone and laptop. They discovered that he was creating fake identification cards for himself and a teenage girl. According to court records, they also discovered that he was experimenting with holograms used on permits for concealed firearms.
Greenberg was indicted on the sex trafficking charge two months later. This was after the prosecutors discovered that the girl in question was between 14 and 17. He had "solicited" her for sex acts in exchange for favors.
Almost immediately after he took office in 2016 at Seminole County, he fired three employees who supported his predecessor. A county audit showed that he also started spending over $1.5 million of taxpayers' money on personal expenses, including funding his own cryptocurrency venture.
In 2017, he posted a picture of himself and Milo Yiannopoulos, someone who has a history of making racist remarks on social media, says the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper also wrote in detail about Greenberg's misogynist and anti-Muslim comments on Facebook.
While seeking to get re-elected in 2019, he resorted to underhanded tactics to beat his rival. According to prosecutors, he sent an anonymous letter to the school where one potential candidate worked, accusing him of sexual misconduct with a student. A fake Facebook account spread similar rumors.
Many similar messages appeared on fake social media accounts linked to Mr.Stone as the primary race intensified. Meanwhile, Central Florida Post, controlled by Stone's associates, wrote favorable articles about Greenberg.
According to Graphika, a social media analyzing company, somebody named April Goad on Facebook said to "Watch out Seminole County, don't open your door" to the rival candidate. The post was linked to an article posted on Central Florida Post about the rival candidate.
It is noteworthy that the website was founded by a member of the Proud Boys. This same group has been linked to security providers for Stone as at when the insurrection took place at the Capitol on January 6.
When Greenberg was indicted in June, his re-election efforts came to an abrupt end. He resigned a day after.