Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) responded to a bombshell report that he is under investigation for an alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl by claiming that he is the victim of an extortion plot by a former Justice Department official.
The New York Times reported Tuesday evening that federal investigators are examining Gaetz’s alleged payment for the girl’s travel alongside him about two years ago, which could violate sex trafficking laws. Gaetz says he is cooperating with the feds and has no plans to resign from Congress.
The Justice Department opened the probe in the twilight of former President Donald Trump’s administration under former Attorney General William Barr, who briefed senior DOJ officials on the matter, according to the Times.
In a three-tweet thread, Gaetz put an entirely different spin on the reported probe.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.”
His wild account continued: “The planted leak to the FBI tonight was intended to thwart that investigation. No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation. I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.”
Gaetz told Axios after the Times report that none of the women he has dated were underage. However, he did acknowledge that he had paid for their expenses: “I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated. You know, 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.”
No charges have been filed against Gaetz, who is 38. He told the Times in a statement that he was only aware that he had come up in an investigation, though he did not believe he was the target: “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.”
During an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News Tuesday night, Gaetz called the story a “horrible allegation” and a “lie.”
“The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman and that is verifiably false. People can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case,” he said.
Gaetz claimed that, as part of an FBI sting, his father was supposed to contact this former DOJ employee on Wednesday to arrange a downpayment of $4.5 million on the $25 million extortion. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices for Northern and Central Florida declined to comment.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that tonight somehow The New York Times is leaking this information, smearing me and ruining the investigation that would likely result in a one of the former colleagues of the current DOJ being brought to justice,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz told Fox that the former DOJ employee going after him was David McGee, now a lawyer at Beggs & Lane.
In an interview with The Daily Beast late Tuesday night, McGee said 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.
Before the Fox interview Tuesday night, Gaetz used his Twitter to call on the Justice Department to “immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.”
When asked how long, and in what ways, he had been cooperating with the feds, the MAGA congressman simply texted The Daily Beast on Tuesday night, “March 16 first extortion text was sent.” He did not immediately reply to follow-up messages seeking clarification.
Andrea Clark, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, provided no further clarity. “We don’t confirm or deny the existence of any ongoing investigation. We can’t make any kind of comment,” she said.
But the Times reported that the investigation of Gaetz’s relationship and financial dealings stems from the indictment and prosecution of Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector. Greenberg was such a close political ally of Gaetz that the congressman endorsed him for a potential congressional run in a 2017 talk radio interview. The two visited the White House together in 2019, posing for a selfie on the lawn.
Greenberg was indicted in June 2020 on charges of sex trafficking a child, alleging he “recruited” and “solicited” a teenage girl between the ages of 14 and 17 for sex for multiple months in 2017 in exchange for favors. Greenberg also allegedly used state resources, including surrendered licenses, to create fake IDs—and allegedly concocted false child-sex allegations against a political rival.
He resigned from his position in the aftermath, and he is currently jailed for violating the terms of his bail as he awaits trial in June. Greenberg has pleaded not guilty.
Mark Horwitz, who represented Greenberg until December, told The Daily Beast he “couldn’t possibly comment” on any link between his former client’s case and an investigation involving Gaetz.
Fritz Scheller, an attorney for Greenberg, declined to comment, citing the pending case against his client.
Gaetz proposed to his girlfriend Ginger Luckey at Mar-a-Lago in December. Fox News host Jeanine Pirro tweeted a picture of the couple. When reached by The Daily Beast, Luckey declined to comment.
The Florida Republican caused a stir in the summer of 2020 when he announced he had a 19-year-old “son,” Nestor Galban, who was the brother of his then-girlfriend. Galban moved in with Gaetz when he was 12.
Gaetz’s romances with younger women have attracted some scrutiny. In 2018, a college student confirmed to HuffPo reporter Matt Fuller—who is now a Daily Beast editor—that she was dating the congressman. “Matt Gaetz is my boyfriend,” she wrote in an email, after Fuller got a tip about a young woman shadowing Gaetz.
In 2019, Mother Jones reported that a staffer admonished Gaetz via text about his relationship with a camera-happy 21-year-old: “Don’t be surprised if many of the conservatives and competitors, like Cris Dosev in Florida CD1, may frown upon her sexually explicit images, her videos showcasing her multiple capabilities to smoke weed, and her flagrant application of language as antithetical to the values of Northwest Florida.” According to Mother Jones, Gaetz called the publication “pleading” not to release the identities of the women he was dating.
Elected to Congress in 2016, Gaetz has fashioned himself as an ultra-conservative firebrand, a millennial Trump who appears often on Fox News and its right-wing challenger Newsmax. He supported Trump’s lie that the November presidential election had been stolen and voted against certifying the election results from Pennsylvania and Arizona on Jan. 6 and 7. The same day news of the investigation into his alleged past relationship broke, Axios reported that Gaetz was considering retiring from Congress when his term ends in 2023 in favor of a commentator role at Newsmax. In 2017, he was the lone member of both the House and the Senate to vote against a bill that would provide broader authority and increased funding for the federal government to combat human trafficking.
—with additional reporting from Matt Fuller