Republican US Rep Matt Gaetz, who is under FBI investigation, questioned the agency’s director while sitting on a committee that oversees it.
The congressman, who federal prosecutors are reportedly investigating in connection with a sex trafficking and obstruction probe related to a former Florida official, has faced calls from members of Congress to be removed from the House Judiciary Committee.
The House Ethics Committee also is pursuing a parallel investigation following allegations that the congressman “engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use” as well as reports that he allegedly shared “inappropriate” images and videos on the floor of the House of Representatives.
That committee also is responding to allegations that the congressman “misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use” or accepted bribes.
Mr Gaetz has not been charged with any offence and has adamantly denied allegations against him. He says the investigation is politically motivated.
In the hearing on 10 June with FBI Director Christopher Wray, Mr Gaetz amplified Covid-19 conspiracy theories and accused the Biden administration and medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci of participating in a “cover up” of the origins of the virus, adding, “I want to figure out what side the FBI is on.”
He asked Mr Wray to present “scientific analysis the FBI has done” regarding claims from a Chinese virologist and Covid-19’s origins, whether the US military was involved, and efforts to “try to present to the world a fake genome sequence”.
Mr Gaetz, who once wore an oversized gas mask to mock face coverings during a House floor vote on an emergency funding package for the coronavirus response, told Mr Wray that it is “simply unacceptable to sit here a year later” from the onset of the public health crisis to request evidence.
The GOP congressman’s ally Joel Greenberg – now a cooperating witness – pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a minor, among other charges, and has agreed to aid prosecutors in a related investigation potentially involving the Republican congressman.
According to a plea agreement entered on 14 May, the former Florida tax collector admitted to introducing a “minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts” with her. The other men were not named.
Federal prosecutors also are reportedly investigating whether Mr Gaetz obstructed justice with a phone call to a witness in the Greenberg investigation.
During the committee hearing on 10 June, Democratic lawmakers questioned the FBI director about white nationalist threats in the US and intelligence ahead of the Capitol riot on 6 January, fuelled by a false narrative that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Donald Trump.
Republicans steered questions to US-Mexico border security and Black Lives Matter protests.
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