ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him, The New York Times first reported.
Gaetz, a Republican who represents parts of the Florida Panhandle in Congress, confirmed the investigation but denied the allegations.
The newspaper reports, citing three people briefed on the matter, the Florida Republican might have broken federal sex trafficking laws that prohibit a person from inducing someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value.
Two people told the Times it was not clear how Gaetz met the girl, who was believed to be 17 when the supposed encounters happened about two years ago.
There have been no charges brought against Gaetz. He told the Times his lawyers were told he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation.
"The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said," the Times reports.
10 Tampa Bay has reached out to Gaetz's office but has not yet heard back.
In an interview with Axios, however, Gaetz confirmed he has learned he is under federal investigation and fears criminal charges could eventually be filed against him. He denies the accusations.
"The allegations against me are as searing as they are false," Gaetz told Axios in a brief phone interview. "I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy."
Gaetz also tweeted Tuesday evening, alleging he and his family "have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name."
The allegations against him, he says, are not true, adding, "the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation."
Earlier on Tuesday, Axios had reported that Gaetz was privately telling people close to him that he may not seek re-election and might even leave Congress early for a job at conservative cable network Newsmax.
The Times says whether Gaetz had any involvement is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his, Joel Greenberg. Greenberg was the Seminole County, Florida, tax collector who resigned following charges last summer of sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, one of whom reportedly was an underage girl, according to the paper.
Greenberg pleaded not guilty and is slated to go on trial in June, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Gaetz, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, earlier this year said he'd resign from the House of Representatives if offered to represent him during his second impeachment trial.
"I only regret that I have but one political career to give to my president," Gaetz said on Fox News.
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