Rep. Matt Gaetz said on Tuesday he is being investigated by the Department of Justice for possible sexual misconduct but claimed he was the victim of an extortion attempt.
“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. 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,” Gaetz said in a statement. “No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation.”
Gaetz’s statement came shortly after the New York Times reported that the Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz, 38, had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel over state lines, thus possibly violating federal sex trafficking laws. In another interview with the Times after the story’s publication, Gaetz denied traveling with a minor. “It is verifiably false that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman,” he told the paper.
Speaking with Axios, Gaetz said the specifics of the investigation are “unclear” but that his lawyers were told he “was not a target but a subject of an investigation regarding sexual conduct with women.”
“I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated,” Gaetz told Axios. “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.”
Spokespersons for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
The investigation was opened under Attorney General William Barr in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, according to the Times. The scrutiny placed on Gaetz’s behavior, the Times reported, is part of a larger investigation into one of his political allies, a former Florida county tax collector named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on multiple federal charges, including for the sex trafficking of a minor. Greenberg has pleaded not guilty.
No charges have been brought against Gaetz at this time.
Earlier this week, Axios reported that Gaetz is considering leaving Congress to pursue a gig at Newsmax. In December 2017, Gaetz was the only person in Congress to vote against a bill to combat human trafficking.