Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and a close ally of Donald Trump, 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.
Investigators are examining whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, three sources told The New York Times.
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 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 investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General Bill Barr.
Given Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said.
The three people said that the examination of Gaetz, 38, is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl.
Greenberg, who has since resigned his post as tax collector in Seminole County, north of Orlando, visited the White House with Gaetz in 2019, according to a photograph that Greenberg posted on Twitter.
Gaetz said in an interview that his lawyers had been in touch with the Justice Department and that they were told he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation. “I only know that it has to do with women,” Gaetz said. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Greenberg pleaded not guilty last year and was sent to jail this month for violating the terms of his bail.
He is scheduled to go on trial in June in Orlando.
A frequent presence on Fox News and other conservative media, Gaetz has recently mused with confidants about quitting elected politics and taking a full-time job with the conservative television channel Newsmax or another network, according to a person familiar with the conversations.
Greenberg maintained ties to controversial figures who have supported Trump, an examination of court records, social media posts and far-right websites showed.
A website run by a member of the far-right group the Proud Boys and a network of fake social media accounts linked to Trump’s longtime political adviser Roger Stone have promoted false accusations about Greenberg’s rivals similar to rumors that prosecutors accused Greenberg of secretly trying to spread.
It was not clear how Greenberg knew either Gaetz or Stone.
He posted a selfie with both in 2017, tweeting, “Great catching up.”
The following year, Gaetz expressed support for Greenberg’s successful bid for local office, predicting he would someday make a great member of Congress.
On Capitol Hill, Gaetz has embraced the role of villain to the left as much as he has served as one of Trump’s staunchest defenders and enablers, often with theatrical flair.
He wore a gas mask on the House floor last year in the early days of the pandemic, insisting he was demonstrating concern for public safety amid accusations he was mocking the seriousness of the spread of the coronavirus.
This article appeared in the New York Times.