After 10 days of relentless developments in the Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) saga of scandals, the Florida Republican reemerged Friday evening to mostly ignore the most recent and damning reports and offer boilerplate MAGA defenses and applause lines.
“I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere,” Gaetz told attendees at the Save America Summit at Trump Doral in Miami, Florida.
As Gaetz tries to brush aside reports that he’s under investigation for paying women for sex—including, potentially, an underage minor—Gaetz seemed to see no irony in addressing an event hosted by “Women for America First.” Instead, he claimed the reports were “smears” and “wild conspiracy theories” promoted by a “lying media.”
As the sun set on one of Trump’s golf clubs, Gaetz was celebrated as a hero and a “fearless leader.”
The congressman kicked things off by regurgitating the lie that the 2020 “election was stolen” from former President Donald Trump, due to “changes to the rules.” He then moved into familiar “America First” boosterism before saying the past week had been “full of encouragement.”
But outside the warm confines of another Trump property, the list of Gaetz scandals is growing and intensifying. Just a few hours before Gaetz spoke Friday, the House Ethics Committee announced it was also opening an investigation into the “public allegations” against him—and the usually laconic press release offered a laundry list of complaints.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds for personal use, and/or accepted a bribe/improper gratuity, or impermissible gift in violation of House rules,” the Committee wrote in a letter.
And yet, no one in attendance for the “Dinner and Drinks with Rep. Matt Gaetz” event would have known that he is potentially fighting for his political future and, more importantly, his freedom. He delivered a speech that largely could have been recited at any Trump rally during the last four years.
Still, as much as Gaetz continues to associate himself with the Trump brand, Trump himself appears to be keeping his distance.
As The Daily Beast reported late last week, advisers to the ex-president implored Trump to not publicly defend Gaetz, at least until more was known about the veracity of the allegations regarding a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and the federal probe. For the most part, Trump has privately agreed with that advice, and various Trumpworld luminaries, members of the Trump family, and top Republicans and conservative media stars have shut the hell up about the Gaetz scandal.
Some are already preparing to wash their hands of the loyal MAGA soldier, despite years of Gaetz vigorously going to bat for Trump on nearly every scandal or major controversy.
None of the 16 former senior Trump admin officials, ex-campaign brass, longtime GOP operatives, and sources close to the ex-president contacted by The Daily Beast were willing to defend Gaetz on the record. Not a single one would even do so anonymously.
When former President Trump finally did issue a statement on Gaetz on Wednesday, it was a brief, mostly self-serving statement that offered a half-hearted defense at best.
"Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon," Trump said in a statement, after reports that Gaetz sought a blanket pardon for himself and other Trump cheerleaders. "It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him."
But for Gaetz, it’s all the vindication he needs.
“The best is indeed yet to come,” Gaetz said at Friday night’s event.
It’s a sentiment lifted from the 2020 Republican National Convention speech of Kimberly Guilfoyle, a prominent Trump ally and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend.
In the intervening time between when Guilfoyle first bellowed those words and when Gaetz said them Friday, Joe Biden beat Trump in the presidential election, the U.S. Capitol was overtaken by insurrectionists, Trump became the first U.S. president to get impeached twice, and it was exposed that Gaetz is the subject of a Justice Department probe into alleged sex trafficking and prostitution.