After reports late Tuesday that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under a Justice Department investigation for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said Wednesday that he wants to wait for the facts before there are any repercussions for Gaetz in Congress—a benefit of the doubt McCarthy hasn’t recently extended to Democrats.
McCarthy was asked on Fox News whether Gaetz should be stripped of his committees. As Fox News host Dana Perino pointed out, McCarthy has called for Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) to have his seat on the Intelligence Committee taken away after it emerged that a Chinese government operative had repeated contact with Swalwell and fundraised for him in 2014. Republicans have also suggested that Swalwell may have had a sexual relationship with the spy, which Swalwell denies.
Instead of waiting for the truth to come out, McCarthy has repeatedly pressured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to remove Swalwell.
When it comes to Gaetz, however, McCarthy wants to wait for the facts.
“Those are serious implications. If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that’s the case,” McCarthy told Fox. “But right now, Matt Gaetz says that it’s not true and we don’t have any information. So let’s get all the information.”
Even though McCarthy is ostensibly defending Gaetz, his comments have already raised some GOP eyebrows on Capitol Hill. “Not exactly a vote of confidence,” a House Republican aide told The Daily Beast Wednesday.
Gaetz has offered a bizarre defense that the allegations of a sexual relationship with a teenager are actually part of a failed extortion scheme.
“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,” Gaetz wrote on Twitter Tuesday night.
“We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter,” he continued, adding that his father, former Republican Florida state Sen. Don Gaetz “has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals.”
Gaetz also demanded the DOJ immediately “release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.”
During his own interview on Fox News Tuesday night with Tucker Carlson, Gaetz said the former DOJ employee going after him was David McGee, who is now a lawyer at Beggs & Lane.
McGee told The Daily Beast Tuesday night that any reports of extortion involving him or his firm were “completely, totally false.”
“This is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that Matt Gaetz is apparently about to be indicted for sex trafficking underage girls,” McGee said.
Gaetz has acknowledged that he has paid for flights and hotels for girlfriends, but he said that was just because he’s “generous as a partner.”
“I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not,” he said Tuesday night.
While the age of consent is 18 in Florida, it’s only 16 in the District of Columbia. However, if Gaetz flew a 17-year-old girl to D.C. for the purposes of evading those consent laws, it could be a sex trafficking violation.
—with additional reporting by Sam Brodey