Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., accused a former Justice Department official of a multimillion-dollar extortion plot on Tuesday, hours after a news report said the lawmaker was being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a minor and paid for her to travel with him.
Gaetz, in a tweeted statement, vehemently denied the allegations reported by The New York Times, which cited three people briefed on the matter. He claimed he and his family were the victims of a $25 million extortion plot and that he was cooperating with federal authorities in the matter.
He added that his father, a former Florida political figure and a longtime power broker in the state, had worked with the FBI to wear a wire.
Gaetz, 38, called a report in The Times detailing the probe a “planted leak.”
“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," he said. "The planted leak to the FBI 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," he added. "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.”
In an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson, Gaetz identified the former Justice employee as David McGee, a former assistant U.S. attorney in North Florida now in private practice.
Late Tuesday, McGee told The Washington Post that he was not connected with any attempt to extort Gaetz or with a Justice Department investigation of the congressman. “It is completely false. It’s a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors,” McGee told The Post.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
According to The Times, it was unclear how Gaetz and the unnamed girl met. The Times reported that the encounter took place two years ago when the girl was 17, and that investigators are examining if Gaetz broke federal sex trafficking laws. Such laws make it a crime to induce someone under the age of 18 to travel for sex in exchange for something of value.
The inquiry into Gaetz, a rising star in the GOP and a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under then-Attorney General Bill Barr, according to The Times.
Gaetz, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is also among a number of high-profile Republicans who have criticized the Justice Department in the past under Trump.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., called on Gaetz to be removed from the Judiciary Committee after the allegations were reported.
"He should not be sitting on a Congressional Committee with oversight over the DOJ while the Department is investigating him," Lieu tweeted.
Gaetz told The Times in an interview that he was told he is the subject, not the target, of the investigation. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” he told the paper.
The Times, citing the three sources, reported that the probe of Gaetz is tied to an investigation of 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 charges. Gaetz was seen in a photo with Greenberg posted on Twitter in 2019 during a visit to the White House.
A lawyer for Greenberg did not respond to a request for comment.
Gaetz, in the appearance on "Tucker Carlson Tonight," continued to emphatically deny the allegation and said the teen girl "doesn't exist."
He again asserted this allegation stems from an extortion attempt and called on the Justice Department and the FBI to release information regarding the alleged shakedown, which he said will show that 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.
After the segment concluded and the show returned from a commercial break, Carlson described it as "one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted."