Trump-boosting Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is under federal investigation over allegations that he maintained a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him, according to a report Tuesday.
The three-term Republican, who is one of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent allies on Capitol Hill, is being probed by Justice Department prosecutors for potentially breaking federal sex trafficking laws by allegedly traveling across state lines with the teen to engage in sex, multiple sources told The New York Times.
The teen’s identity is not known, and it’s unclear how Gaetz, 38, met her.
The alleged sexual encounters reportedly took place about two years ago, when the girl is believed to have been 17.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
The Justice Department often seeks sex trafficking charges in cases where an offender has crossed state lines for sex with an underage individual in exchange for cash or something else of value. Convictions in such cases usually result in lengthy prison sentences.
Gaetz vehemently denied having sex with any underage girls, but also acknowledged in a wide-ranging phone interview with Axios on Tuesday night that he “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,” Gaetz said. “I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”
In a statement issued by his office later Tuesday, Gaetz claimed the allegations are part of a convoluted extortion scheme against his family orchestrated by a former Justice Department official.
Gaetz also claimed he has been cooperating in a Justice Department probe into that alleged scheme.
“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,” Gaetz said. “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 congressman said the allegations against him are being pushed by “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,” Gaetz said.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Gaetz’s assertions.
According to the Times, the Justice Department launched the probe into Gaetz’s alleged sexual relationship with the teen in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The inquiry is part of a broader probe into Joel Greenberg, a local official in Florida associated with Gaetz, who was indicted last summer on an array of sex trafficking charges, including financially supporting an underage girl in exchange for sex.
Because of Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials, including some appointed by Trump, were reportedly informed of the investigation being opened last year.
A spokeswoman for Trump did not return a request for comment Tuesday.