Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., accused a former Justice Department official of a multimillion-dollar extortion plot on Tuesday, just hours after a news report said the lawmaker was under investigation by the Justice Department for having a sexual relationship with a minor and paying for her to travel with him.
Gaetz, in a tweet, vehemently denied the allegations made public by The New York Times, citing three people briefed on the situation. He claimed that he and his family were the victims of a $25 million extortion plot and that he was cooperating with federal authorities.
He went on to say that his father, a former Florida political figure and longtime power broker in the state, had collaborated with the FBI to wear a wire.
Gaetz, 38, called The Times report on the investigation a “planned leak.” “Over the last few weeks, my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name,” Gaetz said.
“We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter, and my father has even worn a wire at the request of the FBI in order to catch these criminals “He stated. “The planted leak to the FBI tonight was designed to sabotage that investigation.”
“None of the allegations against me are true, and the people spreading these lies are the targets of the ongoing extortion investigation,” he said “He continued. “I demand that the DOJ release the tapes made at their request, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations, as soon as possible.”
Gaetz identified the former Justice employee as David McGee, a former assistant U.S. attorney in North Florida who is now in private practice, in an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson.
McGee told The Washington Post late Tuesday that he was not involved in any attempt to extort Gaetz or a Justice Department investigation into the congressman. “It is entirely false. It’s a blatant attempt to divert attention away from the fact that he’s being investigated for sex trafficking of minors,” McGee told The Washington Post.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. The Times reported that it was unclear how Gaetz and the unnamed girl met. According to the Times, the encounter occurred two years ago when the girl was 17, and investigators are looking into whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws. It is a crime under such laws to induce a minor under the age of 18 to travel for sex in exchange for something of value.
According to The New York Times, the investigation into Gaetz, a rising star in the Republican Party and a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, was launched in the final months of the Trump administration by then-Attorney General Bill Barr.
Gaetz, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is one of several high-profile Republicans who have previously criticized the Justice Department under Trump.
After the allegations were made public, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., demanded that Gaetz be removed from the Judiciary Committee. “He should not be sitting on a Congressional Committee with oversight over the DOJ while the Department is investigating him,” Lieu wrote on Twitter.
Rep Matt Gaetz should be taken off the @HouseJudiciary Committee until the @TheJusticeDept investigation is completed. He should not be sitting on a Congressional Committee with oversight over the DOJ while the Department is investigating him. https://t.co/TKRfSyCgHe
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 30, 2021
Gaetz told The New York Times in an interview that he has been told that he is the subject of the investigation, not the target. “I suspect that someone is attempting to reclassify my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more heinous,” he told the paper.
The Times reported, citing three sources, that the investigation into Gaetz is linked to one into Joel Greenberg, a Gaetz political ally who was indicted last year on federal stalking charges, including aggravated identity theft and sex trafficking of a child, among other things. During a visit to the White House in 2019, Gaetz was seen in a photo with Greenberg that was posted on Twitter.
Greenberg’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Gaetz continued to emphatically deny the allegation on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” saying the teen girl “doesn’t exist.”
He asserted once more that the allegation stems from an extortion attempt and urged the Justice Department and the FBI to release information about the alleged shakedown, which he claims will show he is “innocent.”
“The whole concept of sex charges against me was really just a way to bleed my family out of money and probably smear my name because I’m a well-known, outspoken conservative, and I guess that’s out of style in a lot of parts of the country right now,” he said.
Carlson described the segment as “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.” after the segment ended and the show returned from a commercial break.