National,  State

Matt Gaetz Facing DOJ Investigation

One of the GOPs most promising stars, a favorite of former President Donald J. Trump, is now facing a possible sudden end to his auspicious career. 

On March 30, the New York Times reported that 38-year-old Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was under investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly violating federal sex-trafficking laws.

Allegedly, Gaetz engaged in a sexual relationship with a girl who was 17 years old at the time and paid for her to travel with him across state lines. Numerous federal statutes prohibit inducing minors to travel over state lines for sex in exchange for goods of value. 

In addition, investigators are also said to now be looking into whether or not a trip taken by Gaetz to the Bahamas in late 2018 or early 2019 involved the illegal trafficking of paid escorts across international and state lines for the purpose of sex with the congressman.

Furthering the potential for investigation, the Justice Department is also looking into whether or not campaign funds were used to pay these expenses. 

Especially damning in regard to these allegations is that Gaetz was the only member of Congress to vote against a 2017 law intended to aid the federal government in curbing human trafficking. At the time, Gaetz cited his constituents’ desire to “abolish a lot of agencies at the federal level” as the reason for his decision.

Furthermore, while serving in the Florida Legislature, Gaetz prevented fellow legislators from outlawing nonconsensual pornography, claiming the recipients has a right to share the images they had received.

Gaetz has repeatedly denied the allegations against him, claiming that they are a part of a $25 million extortion plot against him and his family. 

Though it is unclear when Gaetz became aware of the investigation, the Times reported on April 6 that he had previously asked former President Trump to preemptively pardon him of any crimes he may or may not have committed.

Gaetz has served Florida’s first congressional district since 2017, winning re-election this past November. As one of Trump’s most vibrant advocates, Gaetz gained fame and support from the far right through his animated support for the President in recent years. 

In particular, following the most recent general election, Gaetz jumped to defend the former President’s touting of “the Big Lie” and claims of election fraud despite a lack of evidence. Gaetz was one of the few Republican lawmakers who aided the challenging of President Joe Biden’s electoral certification, prior to its interruption by the January 6 insurrection. 

Rep. Gaetz has also garnered praise from the far right following his participation in a Wyoming rally aimed at unseating Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming. Cheney serves as chair of the House Republican Conference — the third most senior position in House Republican leadership — and was one of ten Republicans to vote for the impeachment of President Trump citing incitement of insurrection. 

Many saw this appeal to Trumpism as an attempt by Gaetz to further advance his career in this new era of the GOP. 

The Justice Department began the investigation in the last final months of Trump’s term, under the then-acting Attorney General, William Barr. According to the New York Times, a number of senior officials were briefed on the investigation due to Gaetz’s increasing spotlight within the party and his growing national profile. 

The investigation into Gaetz, according to the New York Times, was only a result of a larger indictment against a local Florida official, Joel Greenburg. 

The former Seminole County tax collector was indicted last year on charges of sex trafficking a minor, stalking a political rival, and financially supporting people in exchange for sex. A new indictment released Tuesday also includes charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to bribe a public official, and theft of government property. 

It was reported that Gaetz had often bragged to other lawmakers about the access to women Greenberg had provided him with, showing off photographs from parties the two men attended together.

In court on Thursday, Joel Greenberg’s attorney revealed that it was likely the former tax collector would strike a plea deal with prosecutors, a potentially devastating sign for Gaetz if Greenberg ultimately agrees to cooperate. 

It remains unclear how Gaetz and Greenburg initially met each other.  

As for Gaetzs’ future aspirations, they may rest on the support he receives from his colleagues in Washington. 

Despite his undying support for Trumpian politics throughout the shifting dynamics of the GOP in recent years, Gaetz has not received notable public support, and Trump and his associates have remained relatively quiet following the allegations. 

Many attribute the silence to the resentment many Democrats and Republicans feel toward the Florida Representative who, despite his relatively brief time as a congressman, has already become one of the most recognizable members on the Hill. 

Reportedly, Gaetz has considered forgoing re-election in exchange for his own show with Newsmax, a Florida based news outlet. Gaetz has neither confirmed nor denied these claims.  

Until any criminal charges are filed, Gaetz has stated that he plans to continue his congressional work.

Featured Image: U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (R) speaking at a Students for Trump and Turning Point Action Event in 2020. Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/2RaEQn0)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.        

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