The ex-girlfriend of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., reportedly testified in front of a federal grand jury investigating the congressman for sex crimes Wednesday, a sign that the Department of Justice could be closer to indicting the conservative firebrand.
According to NBC News, the ex-girlfriend has been in talks with prosecutors for months over an immunity deal that would result in an exchange of her testimony for a withholding of a charge of obstruction of justice. Last March it was reported that the Department of Justice had an open inquiry into whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old for money.
Gaetz has yet to be charged with any crime at the state or federal level, has denied any wrongdoing and has referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt.” The federal investigation began in 2020 under the administration of then-President Donald Trump, of whom Gaetz is an outspoken supporter.
Authorities have reportedly been looking into whether Gaetz, 39, could be charged under the Mann Act, which prohibits bringing anyone across state lines “with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.” If the case moves forward, the three-term congressman could also be charged with obstruction of justice for a phone call with the ex-girlfriend and another witness in the case. Prosecutors reportedly sought the cooperation of the ex-girlfriend because she was in an open relationship with Gaetz at the time of his alleged sexual relations with a minor.
The investigation into Gaetz stems from one into Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County, Fla., tax collector. Last May, Greenberg pleaded guilty to several crimes, including the sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl. A 2017 photo shows Greenberg with Gaetz and Republican operative Roger Stone. Greenberg also posted a photo with Gaetz outside the White House to his Twitter account in 2019.
In October, the Justice Department added two top prosecutors to the case. Investigators are also looking into a trip to the Bahamas where the ex-girlfriend and underage girls could have been present. Last fall, Florida real estate developer Stephen Alford pleaded guilty to charges he had tried to extort millions from Gaetz’s family in exchange for a presidential pardon on the sex crime charges. Alford’s extortion attempt came months after the initial investigation into Gaetz started.
In a March 2021 interview with Tucker Carlson, Gaetz attempted to pull the Fox News host into the story, telling him, “I can say that, actually, you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine, you’ll remember her. And she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme that she could face trouble.”
“I don’t remember the woman you’re speaking of,” Carlson said, “or the context at all.”
“That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted,” Carlson said later in the broadcast.
Gaetz, the son of a prominent Florida Republican politician, was elected in 2016 and represents the state’s First Congressional District, which includes much of the Florida Panhandle. Gaetz has been a cable news fixture who has made headlines for stunts like wearing a gas mask when Congress was discussing COVID-19 legislation in March 2020. Gaetz married girlfriend Ginger Luckey last August in California.
Hours before the initial New York Times story on the investigation was published last March, Axios reported that Gaetz was considering an early retirement from Congress to take a position with the conservative outlet Newsmax. 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.
“Unless there is an overwhelming, compelling reason that our existing agencies in the federal government can’t handle that problem, I vote ‘no’ because voters in northwest Florida did not send me to Washington to go and create more federal government,” Gaetz said of his vote at the time.