Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is set to speak to a group of female Trump supporters Friday as scandal continues to swirl around the controversial legislator.
Gaetz will be addressing the Women for America First organization at the Trump Doral golf resort. On Twitter, Gaetz thanked the group for “the invitation to share my vision for our great nation.”
Women for America First was one of the organizations responsible for organizing the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., in support of then-President Donald Trump that preceded the storming of the U.S. Capitol. In a tweet promoting the event, the group said Gaetz “has been a fearless leader in D.C.” and that “few members of Congress have been more willing than Matt to stand up & fight on behalf of President Trump & his America First Agenda.”
Last week, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department was investigating whether Gaetz had had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl and, if so, whether he violated any federal laws by traveling with her over state lines. Gaetz and a onetime Florida Republican politician, Joel Greenberg, are being investigated for potentially paying women for sex. Gaetz has denied all the charges and said he will not resign from his seat representing a staunchly conservative part of the Florida Panhandle.
The inquiry into Gaetz stemmed from his relationship with Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector currently in federal jail after being arrested last year on a number of allegations, including financial crimes, stalking, identity theft and sex-trafficking a minor. Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg had a sexual relationship with the same 17-year-old who is thought to have had sex with Gaetz.
Politico reported Wednesday that “the two shared more than one girlfriend, according to interviews with eight friends and associates who know the two men. … Now some suspect Greenberg might be cooperating with prosecutors to build a case against Gaetz.”
Gaetz claims the investigation is part of an extortion attempt against his family, including his father, Donald, a millionaire former president of the Florida state Senate.
"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," the younger Gaetz told Axios last week.
The attorney Gaetz is alleging is involved in the extortion attempt told the Washington Post he has “no connection” to the scandal.
“It is completely false. It’s a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors,” David McGee said, adding, “I have no connection with that case at all, other than [being] one of a thousand people who have heard the rumors.”
The elder Gaetz was reportedly approached by two men who said that if the family helped recover Robert Levinson, an American held hostage by Iran whose family believes he is dead, it would help the younger Gaetz out of his legal troubles. The Post reported that it appeared the men making the offer — former military intelligence analyst Bob Kent and Florida developer Stephen Alford — had no involvement with the investigation into Gaetz other than knowing it was happening and attempting to use it for leverage.
CNN reported last week that, in addition to the federal investigation, Gaetz showed nude photos of women he claimed to have slept with to colleagues on the House floor. During his time as a state legislator in Florida, Gaetz’s vote was one of just two against a bill banning revenge, or nonconsensual, porn. Tom Goodson, a former Republican state legislator who sponsored the bill, told the Orlando Sentinel that Gaetz was its primary opponent.
“Matt was absolutely against it. He thought the picture was his to do with what he wanted,” Goodson said. “He thought that any picture was his to use as he wanted to, as an expression of his rights.”
In 2017, Gaetz was the only "no" vote on a human-trafficking bill that was passed unanimously by the Senate and by a 418-1 count in the House.
As part of his public defense, Gaetz published an op-ed on Monday in the Washington Examiner. In the piece, he attempted to paint the investigation as a political attack, writing that he was “sure some partisan crooks in Merrick Garland’s Justice Department want to pervert the truth and the law to go after me, I will not be intimidated or extorted.” Reporting has been clear, however, that the inquiry into him started last year, when Attorney General William Barr was still running the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Gaetz sought a blanket pardon from Trump before his term ended. According to the story, Gaetz “privately asked the White House for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed.” Trump said Wednesday that Gaetz had never asked him for a pardon.
Following Trump’s loss in November, Gaetz publicly said he should “pardon everyone,” saying in a Fox News interview, “You see from the radical left a bloodlust that will only be quenched if they come after the people who worked so hard to animate the Trump administration with the policies and the vigor and the effectiveness that delivered for the American people.”
It’s unclear when Gaetz found out about the Justice Department investigation into his actions, but in recent months he has floated leaving Congress early. In early February, Gaetz volunteered to resign his seat in order to help defend Trump in his impeachment trial. Hours before the initial New York Times story on the investigation was published, Axios reported that Gaetz was considering an early retirement from Congress to take a position with the conservative media outlet Newsmax.
As part of their attempt at mounting a defense, Gaetz and his office promoted a Monday press conference, with the congressman tweeting, “WATCH LIVE: U.S. Air Force veteran and former Gaetz staffer Capt. Nathan Nelson exposes recent encounter with FBI Agents.” Nelson’s nine-minute press event provided no new information, with the former director of military affairs stating, “I’m not here to provide any degree of evidence in support of Congressman Gaetz, only to discredit these baseless allegations. ... I don’t have any specific knowledge on the investigation or any of the facts that are involved with the investigation.”
Gaetz’s first public defense was an appearance last week on Tucker Carlson’s primetime Fox News show. During an awkward interview, Gaetz promised there would be no photos of him with “child prostitutes” and told Carlson that the talk show host had met a female friend of Gaetz’s who was being threatened by the FBI.
“I don’t remember the woman you’re speaking of or the context at all,” Carlson replied, adding later in the broadcast that it was “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
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