- 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)
Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium
The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.
Eviction Freeze Set To Expire
President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.
The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.
While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.
In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Delays in Relief Distribution
The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.
Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.
A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires.
The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape.
Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.
According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 — including New York — had not spent any funds at all.
Slim Chances in Congress
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.
However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.
While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.
Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.
“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”
With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.