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The besieged member of Congress has remained defiant in public, but as multiple close associates and allies, including the former president, distance themselves from Gaetz, his situation appears to be increasingly precarious.
During the presidency of Donald Trump, United States Representative Matt Gaetz experienced a meteoric rise in the Republican Party, becoming one of the most visible and ardent supporters of the president. Not even three months since Trump’s departure, though, Gaetz is facing an increasingly uncertain future as he faces a federal investigation for sex trafficking.
As of now, Gaetz, who represents the state of Florida’s 1st congressional district, has not been charged with any crimes. However, Gaetz’s close ties to another Florida politician, Joel Greenberg, has potentially linked him to a sex trafficking ring, Gaetz is alleged to have committed a number of serious crimes, including being involved in a sexual relationship with a minor.
Gaetz has vehemently defended himself, denying all accusations of wrongdoing and insisting that he has been the target of a blackmail attempt by a former federal official. The besieged member of Congress has remained defiant in public, but as multiple close associates and allies, including the former president, distance themselves from Gaetz, his situation appears to be increasingly precarious.
Who is Matt Gaetz?
Matthew Louis Gaetz II was born in Hollywood, Florida in 1982. He completed a Bachelor of Science degree at Florida State University in 2003, then studied law at William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia. Following the completion of his law degree, he worked briefly as an attorney at Keefe, Anchors, Gordon and Moyle in Fort Walton Beach.
In 2010, Gaetz entered politics when he successfully ran for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives. He held the seat through 2016, at which time he ran to represent the state in the US House of Representatives. Winning in the same election that resulted in Trump taking the White House, Gaetz has since won two more terms, with his current term set to end January 3, 2023.
Gaetz has spent much of his time in office supporting Trump’s agenda and being a public advocate for the former president. He was one of the members of Congress who publicly challenged the 2020 election results and voted to reject the votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania. These false claims that the election was stolen in part contributed to the attack at the US Capitol on January 6.
Matt Gaetz’s sex trafficking scandal
On March 30, The New York Times reported that Gaetz was being investigated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for violation of federal sex trafficking laws. Specifically, Gaetz was alleged to have paid a 17-year-old girl for sex, as well as paying for her to travel with him. The investigation was started while Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, was still overseeing the DOJ.
Gaetz could face numerous serious federal charges if the investigation determines he did indeed pay for sex with a 17-year-old. In Florida, the age of consent is 18, meaning that if Gaetz had sex with the girl, with or without payment, it would legally be statutory rape, a second-degree felony. Additionally, paying for someone under 18 to travel across state lines for the purpose of sex is legally defined as sex trafficking.
Days after the Times report, CBS News reported that Gaetz was also being investigated for a trip he took to the Bahamas that allegedly involved paid escorts. Again, investigators are looking to determine if the situation involved sex trafficking, which would be the case if the women were transported across state or international lines for the purpose of sex.
The Daily Beast published a separate story on April 8 in which it claimed to have reviewed Venmo payments from Gaetz to Joel Greenberg, a friend of Gaetz’s and a former Florida politician. On one occasion, Gaetz allegedly paid Greenberg US$900 on the money-sharing app, which Greenberg then split between three women, at least one of whom was 18.
It was initially an investigation of Greenberg that led federal investigators to Gaetz. Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, is facing 33 federal charges, among them sex trafficking of a minor and using the state database to create fake photo IDs for girls. Greenberg was also previously arrested for stalking a political opponent.
Greenberg’s attorney has stated that he intends to accept a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, the terms of which would almost certainly include providing information about any potential associates in his crimes. The day it was reported that Greenberg was considering the plea deal, his lawyer, Fritz Scheller, said of the Congressmember, “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”
On April 14, CNN reported that two women had confirmed details about parties that Gaetz had allegedly attended, including that there was regular use of both hard and recreational drugs. Sex was also common at the parties, said the women, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as were payments for sex. Neither woman said underaged girls were at the parties.
Matt Gaetz’s defense
Even as days of successive reports have seemingly painted a dire picture for him, Gaetz has maintained that he is innocent and that he has evidence that will exonerate him.
Disputing the reports, Gaetz has claimed he and his family have been the target of a US$25 million “organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official.”
Gaetz says his father, Don Gaetz, has been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to catch the people extorting him. “No part of the allegations against me are true,” he tweeted the day the Times report was published, “and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation.”
Gaetz reportedly sought a blanket pardon from Trump in the last days of his presidency, which would have given him immunity for any crimes he may have committed. Trump denied the request. The former president is also said to have refused to meet with Gaetz when the embattled congressmember traveled to Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
Since then, members of his own party have distanced themselves from Gaetz, including two senior aides who have left Gaetz’s staff since the investigations were first reported.
One of Gaetz’s few public allies through this ongoing ordeal is Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene who took to Twitter to claim Gaetz’s sex trafficking scandal was “a deep state attack and media smear fest to take him down.”
However, Taylor herself is no stranger to criticism, supporting the false election fraud claims and advocating for conspiracy theories such as QAnon, which alleges that Democratic politicians are involved in sex trafficking minors.
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