- The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) over accusations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him.
- Investigators are allegedly probing whether Gaetz broke federal sex trafficking laws, and the inquiry is believed to be connected to a broader investigation into one of his political allies, who was indicted on numerous charges last year, including sex trafficking of a child.
- Gaetz confirmed the investigation Tuesday but denied the allegations, claiming they are part of an attempt by former DOJ official David McGee to extort his family for $25 million.
- He also accused The New York Times of leaking the story to undermine an investigation into McGee, who called Gaetz’s remarks “a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors.”
Reported Allegations Against Rep. Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) is being investigated by the Justice Department over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl and paid for her to travel with him, according to several reports published Tuesday.
Sources familiar with the matter said investigators are looking into whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, which make it illegal to transport a minor across state lines to engage in sex.
According to The New York Times, which first broke the story, it is unclear how Gaetz met the girl, who was believed to be 17-years-old at the time of the encounters about two years ago. The sources did say that the investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William Barr as part of a broader probe into local Florida politician and political ally of Gaetz, Joel Greenberg.
Greenberg was indicted last summer on numerous charges including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, including at least one underage girl. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently scheduled to go on trial in June, but was reportedly sent to jail earlier this month for violating the terms of his bail.
It is currently unknown how Greenberg knows Gaetz, but the media has surfaced at least two photos of the two together that Greenberg posted on his Twitter in 2017 and 2019.
Gaetz Denies Allegations, Claims He’s Being Extorted
It is also unclear how investigators on the Greenberg probe began to investigate the controversial Florida representative. In an interview with Axios Tuesday, Gaetz confirmed that he was under investigation but said that allegations are “unclear,” and he said he’s been told “very little.”
Gaetz told the outlet his lawyers had been informed by the DOJ that he was “not a target but a subject of an investigation regarding sexual conduct with women.”
“I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated,” he said when asked what the charges could relate to. “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.”
However, he also claimed that he was “absolutely” confident none of the women were underage and denied the accusations.
“The allegations against me are as searing as they are false. 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,” he continued. “They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away.”
Gaetz also echoed those claims in a statement on Twitter Tuesday, saying his family was being extorted by a former DOJ official “seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name.”
He asserted that his family was cooperating with authorities and said that his father, former Florida State Senator Don Gaetz (R), has “been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction.”
“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 continued.
He concluded by calling for the DOJ to “release the tapes.”
Tucker Carlson Interview
Gaetz elaborated on his extortion allegations while speaking to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who later described the interview as “one of the weirdest” he has “ever conducted.”
During the interview, Gaetz claimed his father received a text on March 16 from a former DOJ official, who he identified as attorney David McGee. Gaetz alleged that McGee demanded a meeting with his father, where the attorney asked for $25 million to make the sex trafficking allegations “go away.” Gaetz also accused The Times of intentionally leaking the story to ruin the investigation into McGee.
When asked what the basis of the DOJ investigation was, Gaetz claimed that he only knew what he read in The Times article, and then launched into a story about a dinner he claimed to have had with Carlson.
“Your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine, you’ll remember her,” he said. “And she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme that she could face trouble.”
“I don’t remember the woman you are speaking of or the context at all, honestly,” Carlson responded before asking Gaetz when he first learned about the investigation.
Gaetz, despite saying only minutes earlier that he only knew what he read in The Times, appeared to provide a major element of the story that had been previously unreported.
“I really saw this as a deeply troubling challenge for my family on March 16, when people were, you know, talking about a minor, and that there were pictures of me with child prostitutes. That’s obviously false. There will be no pictures because no such thing happened,” he said, without further elaboration.
“I don’t think that clarified much, but it certainly showed that this was a deeply interesting story and we will be following it,” Carlson said after the interview. “[I] don’t quite understand it.”
Former DOJ Official Denies Claims
Notably, regarding Gaetz’s extortion claims, McGee, the former DOJ official Gaetz accused, denied the allegations in a statement to The Washington Post Tuesday.
“It is completely false. It’s a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors,” he said. “I have no connection with that case at all, other than, one of a thousand people who have heard the rumors.”
McGee did confirm that Gaetz’s father had called him and asked to meet, but he declined to say what the call was about.
“If there is a tape, play the tape,” he added. “There is nothing on that tape that is untoward. It is a pleasant conversation of a dad concerned about his son and the trouble his son was in.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the FBI and DOJ have not responded to media requests for comments. A source familiar with the matter did tell The Post that while the probe into sexual misconduct allegations was underway, Gaetz’s family did claim he was being extorted, and that the FBI separately is looking into those claims.
Axios also reported that Gaetz sent them “screenshots of text messages, emails and documents outlining the alleged extortion scheme,” though they did not provide the content.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Axios) (The Washington Post)
Republican Congressman Proposes Bill to Ban Anyone Under 16 From Social Media
The proposal comes amid a growing push for social media companies to be stringently regulated for child and adolescent use.
The Social Media Child Protection Act
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Ut.) introduced legislation Thursday that would ban all Americans under the age of 16 from accessing social media.
The proposal, dubbed the Social Media Child Protection Act, would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and give parents and states the ability to bring legal actions against those platforms if they fail, according to a press release.
The legislation would also mandate that social media platforms implement “reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from users and perspective users.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be given the authority to enforce these regulations and implement fines for violations.
Stewart has argued that the move is necessary to protect children from the negative mental health impacts of social media.
“There has never been a generation this depressed, anxious, and suicidal – it’s our responsibility to protect them from the root cause: social media,” he said in a statement announcing the bill.
“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we require car seats and seat belts; we have fences around pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16,” the Congressman continued.
“The damage to Generation Z from social media is undeniable – so why are there no protections in the digital world?”
While Stewart’s arguments are nothing new in the ongoing battle around children and regulating social media, his legislation has been described as one of the most severe proposals on this front.
The plan would represent a huge shift in verification systems that critics have long said fall short. Many social media sites like TikTok and Twitter technically ban users under 13 from joining, but there is no formal verification process or mechanisms for enforcement. Companies often just ask users to provide their birthdays, so those under 13 could easily just lie.
Backlash and Support
Stewart — who spent the weeks before the rollout of his bill discussing the matter with the media — has already gotten pushback from many who say the idea is too extreme and a bad approach.
Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of the social media trade group NetChoice, told The Washington Post that such a decision should be left to parents.
“Rather than doomsaying or trying to get between parents and their families, the government should provide tools and education on how best to use this new technology, not demonize it,” he said.
Others have also argued that the move could cut off access to powerful and positive online resources for kids.
“For many kids, especially LGBTQ young people who may have unsupportive parents or live in a conservative area, the internet and social media are a lifeline,” Evan Greer, the director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Post. “We need better solutions than just cutting kids off from online community and educational resources.”
Lawmakers have also echoed that point, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Ca.), who represents Silicon Valley. However, there also seems to be support for this measure. At least one Democratic Congressmember has told reporters they are open to the idea, and Stewart says he thinks the proposal will have broad bipartisan backing.
“This is bipartisan… There’s Democratic leaders who are actually maneuvering to be the lead co-sponsor on this,” he told KSL News Radio, adding that President Joe Biden recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that referenced similar ideas.
A Growing Movement
Stewart is just one among the growing number of lawmakers and federal officials who have voiced support for keeping kids and younger teens off social media altogether.
In an interview with CNN Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed concern regarding “the right age for a child to start using social media.”
“I worry that right now, if you look at the guidelines from the platforms, that age 13 is when kids are technically allowed to use social media,” he said. “But there are two concerns I have about that. One is: I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early.”
Murthy went on to say that adolescents at that age are developing their identity and sense of self, arguing that social media can be a “skewed and often distorted environment,” adding that he is also worried about the fact that the rules around age are “inconsistently implemented.”
His comments gained widespread backing. At least one Senator posted a tweet agreeing, and an FTC Commissioner also shared the remarks on the platform. Stewart, for his part, explicitly cited Murthy’s remarks in the press release announcing his bill.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KSL News Radio) (CNN)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”