Update: Rep. Matt Gaetz released a statement over Twitter denying sexual misconduct accusations and calling on the Department of Justice to release evidence purportedly supporting his claims of extortion:
Over the past several 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. We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter and my 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. No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation. I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.
Original Report: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) confirmed on Tuesday that he is under federal investigation for alleged sexual misconduct.
Gaetz confirmed the investigation in an interview with Axios on Tuesday afternoon following a report on the investigation from The New York Times. Gaetz denied any wrongdoing and said that he is being targeted by the Department of Justice for his conduct when he was a bachelor.
“The allegations against me are as searing as they are false,” Gaetz told Axios. “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.”
“The allegations of sexual misconduct against me are false,” Gaetz reiterated. “They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away.”
The Florida congressman said that the specific allegation against him was “unclear” and connected the investigation with an extortion case that he said he and his dad have been working on with the FBI in the Northern District of Florida for weeks now. Gaetz said that the Justice Department told his lawyers “I was not a target but a subject of an investigation regarding sexual conduct with women.”
The New York Times reported that Gaetz “is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him,” citing three people briefed on the investigation. The Times continued:
Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.
It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people.
The Florida congressman told the Times that someone was unfairly maligning and targeting him. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” Gaetz said.
The congressman added in the interview with Axios: “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.” He maintained that he had never dated anyone underage.
Gaetz is a firebrand in the House and is known for being outspoken and confrontational in and out of Congress. He made frequent appearances on network television to defend former President Donald Trump and was one of the former president’s foremost defenders during both impeachment trials. Gaetz also led a push in the House to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her leadership position in the caucus in January over her vote to impeach Trump.