- 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)
Supreme Court Begins Contentious New Term as Approval Rating Hits Historic Low
The most volatile cases the court will consider involve affirmative action, voting rights, elections, and civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
High Court to Hear Numerous Controversial Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday officially kicked off a new term that will be marked by a number of very contentious cases.
The justices, led by a conservative super-majority, will hear many matters that have enormous implications for the American people.
The first case the court will hear this term involves a major environmental dispute that will determine the scope of government authority under the Clean Water Act — a decision that could have a massive impact on U.S. water quality at a time when water crises’ have been heightened by climate change.
The case also comes amid increasing concerns about federal inaction regarding climate change, especially after the Supreme Court significantly limited the government’s power to act in this area at the end of its last term.
Cases Involving Race
Several of the most anticipated decisions also center around race, including a pair of cases that challenge affirmative action programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
For over four decades, the high court has repeatedly upheld that race can be a factor in college admissions to ensure a more equitable student body. Despite the fact that multiple challenges have been struck down in the past, the court’s conservative super majority could very well undo 40 years of precedent and undermine essential protections.
The high court will decide a legal battle that could significantly damage key voting protections for minorities set forth under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The case in question stems from a lower court opinion that invalidated Alabama’s congressional map for violating a provision in the VRA prohibiting voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race.
Alabama had drawn its map so only one of its seven congressional districts was majority Black, despite the fact that nearly one in every three voting-age residents in the state are Black.
States’ Power Over Elections
Also on the topic of gerrymandering and elections, the justices will hear a case that could have a profound impact on the very nature of American democracy. The matter centers around a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down the Republican-drawn congressional map on the grounds that it amounted to an illegal gerrymander that violated the state’s Constitution.
The North Carolina GOP appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause gives state legislatures almost total control over how federal elections are carried out in their state under a theory called the independent state legislature doctrine.
“That argument, in its most extreme form, would mean that [sic] no state court and no state agency could interfere with the state legislature’s version of election rules, regardless of the rules set down in the state constitution,” NPR explained.
In other words, if the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina Republicans, they would essentially be giving state legislatures unchecked power over how voting maps are designed and elections are administered.
Another notable decision the justices will make could have huge implications for the LGBTQ+ community and civil rights more broadly. That matter involved a web designer in Colorado named Lori Smith who refused to design websites for same-sex couples because she believed it violates her right to religious freedoms.
That belief, however, goes against a Colorado nondiscrimination law that bans businesses that serve the public from denying their services to customers based on sexual orientation or identity.
As a result, Smith argues that the Colorado law violates the right to free speech under the First Amendment. If the high court rules in her favor, it would undermine protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado and likely other states with similar laws.
Experts also say such a ruling could go far beyond that. As Georgetown University’s Kelsi Corkran told NPR, “if Smith is correct that there’s a free speech right to selectively choose her customers based on the messages she wants to endorse,” the Colorado law would also allow white supremacists to deny services to people of color because that “would be a message of endorsement.”
Record-Low Approval Rating
The court’s high-stakes docket also comes at a time when its reputation has been marred by questions of legitimacy.
A new Gallup poll published last week found that the Supreme Court’s approval rating has sunk to a record low. Specifically, less than half of Americans said they have at least a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch — a 20% drop from just two years ago.
Beyond that, a record number of people also now say that the court is too conservative. Experts argue that these numbers are massively consequential, especially as the U.S. heads into yet another highly-contentious court term.
“The Supreme Court is at an important moment,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs told The Hill.
“Trust in the institutions has vastly diminished, certainly among Democrats, and many have a close eye on how they rule on other vital matters. If decisions seem to keep coming from a very pointed political direction, frustration and calls for reform will only mount.”
See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNN) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event
The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.
Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.
The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.
The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.
“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.”
The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.
“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.
“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”
The Age Maximum Question
Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.
Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.
While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.
These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.
There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.
What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.
As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.
Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.
However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (NBC News)
Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds
In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.
A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse
More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.
Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.
All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.
“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”
“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.
“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”
Abuses Go Unreported
Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.
Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.
Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.
In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.
In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.
The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”