Just a couple of hours after The New York Times reported that Representative Matt Gaetz is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he violated federal sex trafficking laws, the Florida Republican spoke with Fox News host Tucker Carlson about the allegations.
The segment, during which Gaetz on more than one occasion appeared to try to implicate the conservative commentator in the growing controversy, left Carlson so befuddled that once the conversation wrapped up he concluded: “That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
Gaetz, an ally of former president Donald Trump, is being investigated by federal authorities over whether he engaged in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to accompany him on his travels, according to the Times. The paper reported that a variety of federal statutes makes it illegal to take part in such activities and that the Justice Department regularly prosecutes cases of that nature.
Sources told the Times that the investigation was opened by Attorney General William Barr during the final months of the Trump administration and that the examination of Gaetz is part of “a broader investigation into a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child.” No charges have been brought against Gaetz, according to the paper.
In a series of tweets following the article’s publication, Gaetz denied the allegations, claiming that over the past several weeks, he and his family have been “victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name” and have been “cooperating with federal authorities.”
Gaetz labeled the Times story as a “planted leak” that was “intended to thwart” the investigation.
“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,” Gaetz wrote.
While on Carlson’s show, Gaetz immediately declared that the report he had a relationship with a teenager whom he traveled with was a “lie” and “verifiably false.” He continued with the allegations from his earlier social media firestorm, repeating that the current situation is tied to an extortion plot involving his family.
Gaetz further claimed that his father, who he said had has been wearing a wire under the direction of the FBI, was supposed to contact the former DOJ official on Wednesday “so that specific instruction could be given regarding the wiring of $4.5 million as a down payment on this bribe.”
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that tonight, somehow the New York Times is leaking this information, smearing me and ruining the investigation that would likely result in one of the former colleagues of the current DOJ being brought to justice for trying to extort me and my family,” Gaetz said.
The Florida congressman said the former DOJ official who is allegedly trying to extort him is David McGee, now a lawyer at a Florida-based law firm.
“I know that there was a demand for money in exchange for a commitment that he could make this investigation go away along with his coconspirators. They even claim to have specific connections inside the Biden White House,” Gaetz said. “Now, I don’t know if that’s true. They were promising that Joe Biden would pardon me, obviously, I don’t need a pardon. I’m not seeking a pardon.”
In an interview with the Daily Beast, McGee denied the allegations of blackmail, saying that any reports of extortion are “completely, totally false.”
“This is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that Matt Gaetz is apparently about to be indicted for sex trafficking underage girls,” McGee said.
The interview then took a sudden turn, with Gaetz — who was in the midst of arguing that this “era of politics” was dominated by smear campaigns to try to take people “out of the conversation” — brought up an accusation that had been made against Carlson years ago.
“I’m not the only person on screen right now who has been falsely accused of a terrible sex act. You were accused of something that you did not do,” Gaetz told Carlson. “And so you know what this feels like, you know, the pain it can bring to your family.”
Carlson has talked about the allegation in the past, saying on his show in 2017 that he was once “accused of felony rape by a woman I had literally never even seen.”
After Gaetz brought up the accusation, Carlson momentarily appeared taken aback, before responding, “You just referred to a mentally ill viewer who accused me of a sex crime 20 years ago. And it of course it was not true. I’d never met the person.”
Gaetz is already facing calls to step down from at least one of his posts. On Tuesday night, California Representative Ted Lieu said Gaetz should be taken off the House Judiciary Committee until the DOJ investigation is completed.
“He should not be sitting on a Congressional Committee with oversight over the DOJ while the Department is investigating him,” Lieu wrote in a tweet.
When Carlson tried to pivot the conversation back to the investigation and question Gaetz on the basis of it, Gaetz said that he only knows what he has “read in the New York Times.” Gaetz then insisted Carlson had previously met “a friend” of his who he claimed was “threatened by the FBI.”
“I can say that actually, you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine, you’ll remember her. 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,” Gaetz said. “And so I do believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to smear me.”
He continued: “Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime. And I’m just troubled that the lack of any sort of legitimate investigation into me, would then permute, would then convert into this extortion attempt.”
Carlson, who again appeared dumbfounded, replied to the claim by saying, “I don’t remember the woman you’re speaking of or the context at all, honestly.” He followed up by pressing Gaetz on the identity of the 17-year-old girl he allegedly had a relationship with, but the Florida Republican claimed the “person doesn’t exist.”
Carlson, who appeared stunned following the segment, told his audience it was “one of the weirdest interviews” he has ever done and that it “certainly showed this is a deeply interesting story.”
“We’ll be following it,” Carlson said. “I don’t quite understand it. But we’ll bring you on when we find out.”