WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday that he plans to speak with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., about "serious" allegations in a news report that Gaetz is under investigation by the Justice Department over whether he had had a sexual relationship with a minor and paid for her to travel with him.
In an interview with Fox News, McCarthy said he hadn't heard from the Justice Department, which The New York Times reported Tuesday night was investigating Gaetz and the allegations.
NBC News confirmed Wednesday that Gaetz is under investigation for possible sex trafficking in a case that stems from an associate of Gaetz and that there is a separate investigation into allegations by Gaetz that he is the victim of extortion.
"I just read the story. Those are serious implications," McCarthy said.
Asked whether he would take any action against Gaetz, such as removing him from the Judiciary Committee, as Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., has demanded, McCarthy said: "DOJ has not told me anything. If a member at my conference gets indicted, they will get removed from a committee. He says this is not true. And we have a newspaper report that says something else. We'll find out the basis."
McCarthy said he hopes to speak with Gaetz on Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement Tuesday night on Twitter, Gaetz vehemently denied the allegations reported by The Times. He claimed that he and his family were the victims of a $25 million extortion plot involving a former Justice Department official and said he was cooperating with federal officials.
"No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation," Gaetz said. "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."
The report by The Times said federal investigators are looking into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and broke federal sex trafficking laws. Such laws make it a crime to induce someone under age 18 to travel for sex in exchange for something of value.
Officials told NBC News that the investigation into Gaetz began last year when an associate of his, Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector in Florida, was indicted on charges tied to allegations that he had harassed a political opponent, who worked at a local school, through letters sent to his opponent's employer and through several fictitious social media accounts.
Greenberg was indicted on stalking- and identity fraud-related charges tied to the allegations of a smear campaign in June. The indictment alleges that Greenberg's false identification crimes were intended to help facilitate his efforts to engage in sex trafficking. It is out of this investigation, officials told NBC News, that authorities developed a lead that persuaded them to investigate whether Gaetz had been involved with sex trafficking of a minor girl.
Greenberg's attorney has not returned a request for comment.
Gaetz has publicly claimed that the letter came from a former federal prosecutor in Florida, David McGee, who told The Daily Beast that the extortion allegation is "completely, totally false."
McGee did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News. He reiterated to The Washington Post that he was not connected with any extortion attempt against Gaetz or with a Justice Department investigation of him.
"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 on Tuesday.
McGee, who worked in the Justice Department from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, has received outstanding service awards from the Justice Department and the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as a special commendation from the director of the FBI, according to his biography.
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 Attorney General William Barr, The Times reported.
Federal prosecutors filed a third superseding indictment against Greenberg on Wednesday, charging him with conspiring with a Small Business Administration employee and another person to submit allegedly false claims for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, bribing the SBA employee and stealing money from the tax collector's office to buy cryptocurrency.
There was no mention of Gaetz in the indictment, which provided no further information about the sex trafficking charges against Greenberg.