By Matt Zapotosky,
The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz — a Florida Republican considered a close political ally of former president Donald Trump — over an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl, according to people familiar with the matter, though the probe has been complicated by the congressman’s assertion that his family is being extorted.
The investigation into Gaetz began some time last year, when Trump was still in office, after a criminal case against a different Florida politician led investigators to allegations that the congressman had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travel, a person familiar with the matter said on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. As that probe was underway, the person said, Gaetz’s family raised allegations that the congressman was being extorted, and the FBI is separately exploring those claims.
The Justice Department activity, which had been conducted in secret for months, burst into the open Tuesday when the New York Times published a report on the investigation into the alleged sexual relationship, and Axios published an interview in which Gaetz confirmed the probe but claimed the allegations against him were “rooted in an extortion effort against my family.”
Separately, Axios reported Tuesday that Gaetz was telling confidants he was contemplating not seeking reelection and possibly leaving his post early for a job at Newsmax, a conservative media outlet.
Gaetz repeated the extortion claim in a statement, alleging that a former Justice Department employee, whom he did not identify, had been “seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name.” Gaetz asserted that his family had been cooperating with the FBI, and that his father had even worn a wire.
“No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation,” Gaetz said.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Efforts to reach Gaetz’s father were not successful Tuesday night.
The investigation into Gaetz’s alleged relationship with the 17-year-old grew from a federal case against a different Florida Republican: Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector who was charged last summer with sex trafficking of a child and a medley of other charges.
According to an indictment in the case, Greenberg abused his access to a statewide database, using it to look up the personal information of people with whom he was in “sugar daddy” relationships, including the minor, and to help produce fake identification documents to “facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts.”
Greenberg, who pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in June, did not return a message seeking comment left at what appeared to be phone listed to him in public records. The Washington Post was unable to learn immediately how Greenberg’s case connected to the allegations against Gaetz, or any details about the 17-year-old with whom Gaetz was alleged to have had a relationship.
A 2019 photograph that Greenberg posted on Twitter shows him with Gaetz at the White House. He also posted a picture in 2017 of him with Gaetz and Roger Stone, another well known Trump political ally.