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Donald Trump ally Matt Gaetz fights for politics as key aide resigns in sex trafficking scandal

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Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, one of former US President Donald Trump’s strongest supporters, has said he has no plans to step down, amid an ongoing investigation into whether he violated US laws against sex trafficking.

Key points: A longtime aide to Mr Gaetz abruptly resigned, apparently “on principle”, Reuiblican frontman Kevin McCarthy said the DOJ investigation could have “serious implications”. Mr Gaetz tweeted “I’m not resigning” and says he is the victim of a $ 33 million extortion attempt

In the latest setbacks for the 38-year-old congressman, his chief communications officer abruptly resigned and prominent Republicans have remained silent, refusing to be drawn into a growing scandal.

But Mr Gaetz continued to go on the offensive, after claiming last week on Fox News that he was the victim of a Department of Justice (DOJ) smear campaign and extortion attempt. $ 25 million ($ 33 ​​million) from a former DOJ member.

Outgoing communications director Luke Ball had worked for Mr Gaetz since he began serving in the House in 2017, becoming deputy campaign director in 2018 before being promoted to press secretary.

“The office of Congressman Matt Gaetz and Luke Ball have agreed that it would be best to go their separate ways,” Mr. Gaetz’s office said in a brief statement.

“We thank him for his time in our office and we wish him the best of luck moving forward.”

Mr. Ball left his post “on principle,” a person familiar with the situation told NBC News.

Last week, Mr Gaetz vehemently denied allegations first reported by The New York Times that the DOJ was investigating whether he had had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether she had received anything. something of value on his part.

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The newspaper also reported that federal investigators were probing the links between third-term congressman and accused associate Joel Greenberg who allegedly recruited women online for sex, giving them money and other inducements. financial.

It was the investigation of Mr. Greenberg, who denies all charges, that alerted the DOJ to Mr. Gaetz’s possible involvement.

Several Republican politicians, speaking on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press, said they believed Mr Gaetz’s chances of remaining in Congress were “bleak” given the latest developments.

He had walked away from some senior party leaders with his wholehearted support for Mr Trump in the final days of his presidency, including a public attack on Liz Cheney, the third most powerful Republican in the House.

Outspoken Matt Gaetz is considered one of the rising stars of the Republican Party. (

AP: Stephen Dowell

)

Ms Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, had voted for the former president’s impeachment following the Jan.6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy said Mr Gaetz’s behavior, if proven, could have “serious implications”.

“If that turns out to be true, we would take it down,” McCarthy told Fox News.

“At the moment, he says that’s not true, and we have no information. Let’s get all the information.”

Mr Gaetz, who appears regularly in the right-wing US media and is known to espouse conspiracy theories, has said he has no intention of resigning.

“I am not resigning,” he said in a text message to the Washington Examiner on Friday.

Mr Gaetz wore a gas mask when he voted on a coronavirus bill last year.

Previously, Mr Gaetz appeared on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News to detail what he called an “attempted extortion” over the phone to get money from his family to make his “future legal problems go away.” and policies ”.

He said his father Don Gaetz, a former Florida senator, carried a recording device to produce audio recordings of conversations that he said would erase his name.

“The extortion of my family by a former DOJ official is REALDOJ has the tapes please release them,” Mr Gaetztweeté said.

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During his Fox News interview, Mr Gaetz identified David McGee, who worked for the DOJ a quarter of a century ago, as the Florida lawyer trying to extort money from his family.

In response, Mr. McGee’s law firm said the allegations were “both false and defamatory” and that his “reputation for integrity and ethical conduct was beyond reproach.”

A former lawyer himself, Mr. Gaetz aligned himself closely with Mr. Trump in 2019 when he led a group of House Republicans to storm a closed-door hearing ahead of the country’s first impeachment trial. ‘former president.

Ahead of the second impeachment trial in February, he called Mr. Trump “perhaps the greatest president our country has ever had”, offering to defend him against the charge of incitement to insurgency, linked to the attacks of January 6.

Matt Gaetz remains a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump. (

Twitter: mattgaetz

)

Political observers have noted the similarities between the two men’s approaches in the aftermath of a major political crisis: flooding the media with information in hopes of changing the narrative.

Mr Gaetz has linked the alleged extortion to an attempt to generate funds to free former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since 2007.

“I hope the truth sets me free, so I try to uncover as much truth as possible,” Gaetz said in an interview last week.

On Friday, he tweeted a press release from Mr. Trump calling for a boycott of fans of the new baseball season, but so far Mr. Trump has not commented on Mr. Gaetz’s situation.

Last December, Gaetz announced his engagement to 26-year-old Harvard Business School student Ginger Luckey with plans to tie the knot before 2024.

Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships of his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life, ”his office said in a statement to The New York Times.

ABC / Son

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