Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is under investigation for reportedly violating sex trafficking laws by engaging in a sexual relationship with a minor and paying for her to travel with him. According to The New York Times, the probe is just one part of a bigger investigation into Joel Greenberg, a former Florida GOP official tied to Gaetz who currently awaits trial for 14 charges including and related to sex trafficking. In an attempt to clear things up, Gaetz appeared on Fox News to discuss the investigation with Tucker Carlson, but now we have even more questions. Specifically: What is going on?
In an odd segment that Carlson then described as “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted,” Gaetz denied the allegations, claimed the probe is a part of an ongoing extortion attempt, and attempted to throw Carlson under the bus twice. He told Carlson that any claims that he was involved with or traveled with a 17-year-old girl are “verifiably false” and “merely intended to bleed my family out of money.” Gaetz went on to clarify, “What is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official.”
Gaetz says he and his father, Florida politician Don Gaetz, received a message several weeks ago from a person demanding $25 million “in exchange for making sex trafficking allegations go away.” According to Gaetz, his father wore a wire in a meeting with a former official from the Department of Justice, and Gaetz is convinced that audio footage from this meeting would clear his name.
The former DOJ official, whom Gaetz identified as lawyer David McGee, has denied Gaetz’s accusation. “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 told The Daily Beast, adding that allegations of his involvement in any kind of extortion are “completely, totally false.”
As if that weren't enough, Gaetz also tried to implicate Carlson in the ongoing investigation. “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,” Gaetz said. “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.” Carlson said that he did not remember this specific dinner or friend.
At another point in the interview, Gaetz turned on Carlson again. “I’m not the only person on-screen right now who has been falsely accused of a terrible sex act,” he said. “You were accused of something you did not do, so you know what this feels like.” It is unclear what Gaetz was talking about here; it’s possible he was referring to a claim that Carlson, along with two other Fox personalities, sexually harassed a guest last year. Carlson quickly clarified that a person he had apparently never met accused him of a sex crime “20 years ago” before moving on with another question.
Before his Fox News appearance, Gaetz told the Times that he was involved in an investigation but did not know any specifics about the probe. “I only know that it has to do with women,” he said. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.” He reiterated this same sentiment to Carlson, emphasizing that it is not a crime to purchase plane tickets and hotel rooms for girlfriends of legal age.
Gaetz made a name for himself as one of former President Donald Trump’s staunchest allies. He’s made headlines for bizarre reasons several times: In November, people speculated that he was dating Tiffany Trump after he appeared to flirt with her on Twitter. Many have also struggled to make sense of his relationship with Nestor, a 19-year-old college student who Gaetz says is his son. (Nestor is not biologically or legally related to Gaetz.) And he's had several other controversies and viral moments that, in retrospect, are even more concerning, including that time he was the only "no" vote on a bipartisan anti-human trafficking bill and this unfortunate tweet that, for some reason, has not yet been deleted.
Gaetz closed his interview with Carlson by asserting that he is a “well-known, outspoken conservative” and implying that the attacks against his character were politically motivated. What he failed to mention was that his investigation has been ongoing for months, and began under former Attorney General William Barr and the Trump administration. For possibly the first time ever, Carlson might have put it best in his post-interview remarks: “I don’t think that clarified much. But it certainly showed this is a deeply interesting story.”