The political peril for conservative Republican Matt Gaetz escalated on Friday as the often extravagant, Trump-style provocateur appeared politically isolated amid a federal sex trafficking investigation.
Few Republicans have rushed to offer any support for the Florida MP, known to have espoused high-volume attacks sometimes against members of his own party during his frequent media appearances. Several lawmakers and senior GOP officials who requested anonymity to discuss the sticky situation said Gaetz’s prospects of remaining in Congress were bleak and complicated in particular by his unpopularity among colleagues in his own party.
Federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and a political ally who faces allegations of sex trafficking may have paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, two people familiar with the matter told the Ministry on Friday. Associated Press.
Gaetz’s review stems from the Justice Department’s investigation into political ally Joel Greenberg, the people said. Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, was indicted last year and is charged with a number of federal crimes. He pleaded not guilty.
Republican congressional leaders have remained largely silent on the ongoing investigation.
It reflected the gravity of the accusations in a story that seems to be adding new material every day, giving lawmakers little incentive to become attached to Gaetz.
Part of the investigation is to determine whether Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old and other underage girls and violated federal sex trafficking laws, people close to the said investigation to the AP. Federal agents suspect that Greenberg may have seduced the girls and then introduced some to Gaetz, and are examining whether the two men may have had sex with the same girls, people said.
Those with knowledge of the investigation could not discuss the details publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Details of the investigation were first reported by The New York Times.
Gaetz vehemently denied the allegations and said in a statement earlier this week that “None of the allegations against me are true.”
For those who witnessed the congressman’s rise in Florida and Washington, there were few surprises.
As a former state lawmaker, he was widely known in Tallahassee before arriving in the nation’s Capitol where he caused a stir by becoming attached to Trump.
Many Capitol Hill colleagues see Gaetz as obsessed with self-promotion, as exemplified by his numerous television appearances which are unusually high for a lawmaker who is not in a senior position, who has spoken under the guise of anonymity to describe internal conversations. This is Gaetz’s fifth year in Congress.
They are particularly upset by his willingness to publicly confront his fellow Republicans, which many see as unnecessarily divisive.
This was most clearly visible when he visited Wyoming in January to urge voters not to re-elect Rep. Liz Cheney. Days earlier, Cheney, the GOP’s No.3 House Leader, was among 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump.
Among the few lawmakers to voice support for Gaetz is first-year GOP Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia, another rising GOP figure propelled by her media appearances and use of social media to spread theories. of the baseless conspiracy.
Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy of R-California told reporters this week the charges against Gaetz were “serious.”
The Gaetz investigation, which has been ongoing since at least the summer of 2020, has reached the highest levels of the Justice Department, and former Attorney General William Barr has been briefed on the matter on several occasions, people said. .
In recent months, investigators have also interviewed several witnesses in the case and reviewed documents, including travel and financial records, people said.
Greenberg was the elected tax collector for Seminole County, near Orlando, when he resigned last June after his arrest on federal charges. Initially, it involved tracking down a political opponent, trafficking a minor for sexual purposes, and illegally using a state database to create fake driver’s licenses and other identity cards.
Since then, the case against Greenberg has grown to more than 30 charges, including wire fraud and other charges involving efforts to divert at least $ 400,000 from the office of tax collectors to the cryptocurrency that he controlled and for his personal use, such as the purchase of autographed memorabilia by NBA greats Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, according to federal prosecutors. Other charges accuse him of using two companies he controlled to fraudulently attempt to obtain coronavirus relief funds.
Gaetz said the allegations against him were part of an extortion plot by a Florida lawyer, who worked decades as a federal prosecutor and who Gaetz identified as David McGee.
In response, the McGee law firm said Gaetz’s allegation about the alleged extortion attempt was “both false and defamatory.” The firm said McGee held senior positions in the United States Attorney’s Office in Florida about 25 years ago and that his “reputation for integrity and ethical conduct was impeccable.”
The Department of Justice has conducted a separate investigation into the extortion allegations, conducted outside the US attorney’s office in North Florida, according to a person familiar with the investigation who also has not been able to publicly discuss the matter. the matter and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Gaetz said his family had cooperated with the FBI and his father carried a recording device, under the direction of the FBI, “to catch these criminals.” He also asked the Ministry of Justice to release the tapes.
The Justice Department did not comment.
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