The Department of Justice is investigating whether Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travels with him, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The government is examining whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, according to the newspaper, which cited three people briefed on the probe. The congressman has not been charged.
The Justice Department declined to comment to CNBC on the Times report.
Gaetz, a 38-year-old conservative firebrand and close ally of former President Donald Trump, in a statement Tuesday denied the reported allegations against him. He said that he is being threatened in a $25 million “organized criminal extortion” scheme involving a former Justice Department official.
Gaetz went on to say he was cooperating with the FBI and that his father “has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals.”
“The planted leak to the New York Times tonight was intended to thwart that investigation,” Gaetz claimed Tuesday evening in an amended version of the statement, which originally said the story had been leaked to the FBI.
“No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation,” Gaetz’s statement said.
The congressman said in his statement that the extortion attempt has been waged against him and his family “over the past several weeks.” But the DOJ’s examination of Gaetz was opened in the final months of Trump’s administration under then-Attorney General William Barr, two sources told the Times.
The Justice Department told Gaetz’s lawyers that he was a subject, not the target, of an investigation, the congressman told the newspaper.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington December 11, 2019.
Jose Luis Magana | Reuters
“I only know that it has to do with women,” Gaetz told the Times. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Gaetz similarly told Axios on Tuesday that he did not know what the specific allegations against him were.
Asked what they might relate to, Gaetz told the outlet: “I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated. You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”
Gaetz said Tuesday night on Fox News that the “horrible allegation” against him “is a lie.”
The claim he traveled with a 17-year-old “is verifiably false,” Gaetz said, encouraging people to “look at my travel records and see that that is not the case.”
Gaetz has privately said he is considering possibly leaving Congress early to take a job at conservative news outlet Newsmax, Axios reported earlier Tuesday.