Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has been adamant that his move to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was rooted in policy disagreements and wasn’t a personal vendetta related to the congressional ethics investigation against him.
In private, he told a different story.
According to private correspondence reviewed by The Daily Beast, Gaetz indicated to a friend that his effort to undercut, isolate, and ultimately remove McCarthy was, indeed, payback for the ethics probe.
The Daily Beast reviewed these communications, but is not allowed to quote from them for fear that Gaetz would be able to identify the recipient. In fact, the source who provided the communications was so nervous about retribution that The Daily Beast isn’t allowed to say in what form the correspondence took place. Suffice to say, however, it’s clear from the communications that Gaetz’s targeting of McCarthy wasn’t borne out of his concern for reckless Washington spending.
In the communications, Gaetz singled out McCarthy individually for reviving an Ethics Committee probe against him, and he indicated that his animus toward McCarthy was over that investigation.
The beleaguered Florida congressman’s anger over the revived probe was so strong that he rode his resentment all the way to a history-making vote to remove McCarthy, steamrolling the majority of his GOP colleagues concerned that his vanity project would cause serious, long-term damage—and he did so with his signature Gaetz grin.
Other Republican congressional sources told The Daily Beast that Gaetz also acknowledged his revenge motive behind closed doors.
In one instance over the summer, Gaetz relayed to a group of colleagues that his push to remove McCarthy was a direct response to the ethics investigation. He specifically blamed McCarthy for the return of the probe, according to two sources familiar with the conversation.
A senior GOP congressional staffer separately told The Daily Beast that he had also heard Gaetz lay the ethics probe at McCarthy’s feet.
“I’ve heard him complain about Kevin because of it,” the staffer said. This aide also confirmed that Gaetz connected the probe to his rally to remove McCarthy.
While McCarthy repeatedly said he didn’t control the Ethics Committee, Gaetz never bought it. In the end, Gaetz exacted his revenge by orchestrating an internal rebellion that pushed McCarthy out of the speakership and, ultimately, out of Congress.
For months, Gaetz sniffed at accusations that his efforts were rooted in personal grievances and self-preservation, flipping those criticisms to instead portray himself as a martyr with the courage to stand on principle. He convinced colleagues that they were doing the same, cajoling reluctant allies into enacting his personal vendetta by framing it in public remarks as a larger, conceptual battle about honesty, integrity, and conservative principles.
And that’s exactly what Gaetz said again in response to The Daily Beast’s comment request.
“As I’ve answered likely 100 times on the record, I led the charge to remove Kevin McCarthy from his role as House Speaker because he failed to keep his promises,” Gaetz said in a statement. “The Daily Beast continues to lie about me, and I think it’s due for a round of layoffs.”
The Daily Beast reached out to McCarthy for comment, but did not receive a reply.
None of those conservative principles, however, appear to apply to the behavior that the House Ethics Committee is investigating—and which appears to have deeply rattled Gaetz.
The probe—which the committee opened in 2021 but quickly tabled in deference to the Justice Department’s investigation—has zeroed in on claims that Gaetz paid to have sex with a minor teenager half his age in 2017, as The Daily Beast reported this week. That allegation is the most sensational among other alleged illegal and unethical acts in the committee’s sights, including public corruption, solicitation of prostitution, habitual use of hard drugs, bribes or impermissible gifts, campaign finance violations, and parading nude photos of sexual partners on the House floor.
Last February, prosecutors announced they decided not to charge Gaetz after a 30-month investigation. It is not publicly known, however, whether that criminal case was ever closed.
Shortly after the DOJ’s announcement, House investigators reopened their case. They had begun contacting witnesses as early as June, according to two people familiar with the matter.
That same month, Gaetz led a chorus of Freedom Caucus allies in the first stages of their rebellion, raising the specter of a motion to vacate over an intra-party dispute about debt ceiling negotiations.
“We’re concerned that the fundamental commitments that allowed Kevin McCarthy to assume the speakership have been violated as a consequence of the debt limit deal,” Gaetz said during a press conference that month. He then posted on social media that, “In the House, I’d make a great leader! (Only thing I’m missing is followers).”
The counteroffensive appears to have a legal dimension as well.
Two months after the ethics reboot, Gaetz’s longtime friend Chris Dorworth, a Florida lobbyist who had been a person of interest in the sex trafficking investigation, filed a bizarre defamation lawsuit against a number of witnesses in the case, including the former teen at the center of the allegations.
Dorworth’s evidence included private correspondence between a Florida prisoner and Gaetz’s legal counsel, though it’s unclear how Dorworth obtained those messages. Two people familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast that Gaetz was a driving force behind the lawsuit, in the interest of getting ahead of the ethics probe. In response to Dorworth’s defamation claims, the former teen held her ground, affirming in her motion to dismiss that Dorworth had raped her.
Gaetz and McCarthy’s rift goes back years, but it heated up in January of last year when the Florida Republican led the charge to block McCarthy from becoming speaker. It took 15 ballots for McCarthy to obtain the gavel, but Gaetz never voted for him to become speaker, instead opting to vote “present.”
But that was just the beginning. After January, Gaetz remained a thorn in McCarthy’s side, especially once the California Republican brokered a deal with the White House to raise the debt ceiling while making spending cuts. For Gaetz and other members of the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative wins in the deal simply weren’t enough.
In June, they blocked a rule from coming to the floor for the first time in over two-decades, bringing all legislative business to a halt for a whole week.
While they worked out a compromise to re-open the floor, the future was bleak. Gaetz and company would occasionally block the rules on the floor for the rest of the year, bringing down bills conservatives disagreed with before they could even be debated.
Then came the government funding fight.
House Republicans tried to pass all 12 appropriations bills, but in the time frame they were given, it was a tough task—especially if conservatives were going to block bills they didn’t think went far enough. Congress was headed toward an imminent government shutdown.
So McCarthy, who had previously put a conservative stopgap spending bill on the floor that failed due to hardline conservative opposition, decided to do the only thing that would keep the government open: he put a clean, short-term funding bill on the floor and passed it with Democratic votes.
That heresy, a standard practice for decades in Congress, was enough of a redline for Gaetz. He told reporters earlier that month that if McCarthy put a clean continuing resolution on the floor, then it would be the end of the Californian’s speakership.
“Shot, chaser; continuing resolution, motion to vacate,” Gaetz said at the time.
Gaetz followed through on the threat. He filed the motion to vacate on Oct. 2, two days after the continuing resolution passed the House.
Right after filing the motion to vacate the chair, Gaetz boasted to reporters that he was going to boot the then-speaker because of the policies he had pushed and because he believed McCarthy had failed to uphold his end of a secret deal brokered during the January speaker fight.
“It’s so funny that I come out here… and I lay out in technicolor the specific areas of breach of the agreement,” Gaetz said on Oct. 2, right after filing the motion to vacate, pushing back on reporter suggestions that his issue with McCarthy was personal.
“This has nothing to do with a personality; this has to do with breach of an agreement,” he said.
Despite his protests, McCarthy and his allies were adamant the reason Gaetz wanted him gone was because he wanted the ethics investigation gone.
That ethics probe—started under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—is focused on the child sex trafficking allegations against him, as The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday. But the Speaker of the House isn’t supposed to have control over the targets of the committee. Those are the rules, at least. Not to give Gaetz’s claims too much credence, but the Ethics Committee has operated in a largely political, toothless fashion for decades.
But the Ethics Committee also hasn’t had much experience dismissing child sex trafficking allegations.
A person briefed on the committee’s work said investigators were “zeroing in” on those allegations, and the committee has contacted a number of women at the center of the child sex trafficking probe, including the former minor. This person expected interviews with a number of subjects in the coming weeks.
While the communications may convincingly show Gaetz’s real motivation for targeting McCarthy, there’s one person who’s unlikely to be surprised by the revelation: McCarthy himself.
When McCarthy was asked why he thought Gaetz was going after him on Dec. 14, the former speaker was very clear.
“We all know it's the ethics complaint on Gaetz,” McCarthy told a group of reporters. “He's doing everything to make sure it doesn't come out, and he doesn't care about anything else. People study that type of crazy mind, right? Mainly, the FBI."