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Rep. Matt Gaetz

Photo by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz is under investigation for potentially violating sex trafficking laws, according to a new report Tuesday from the New York Times.

Officials are reportedly investigating his relationship with a 17-year-old girl and whether he had sex with her and paid for her to take take trips with him. It is a federal crime to use money to get an underage person to cross state lines for sexual purposes.

"It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people," the report said. "The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz's national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said."

Earlier on Tuesday, Axios had reported that Gaetz has considered stepping down from Congress early to join the right-wing outlet Newsmax. It's not clear if such considerations are related to the investigation reported by the Times.

The Times reported that the investigation of Gaetz grew out from 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 and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl."

Greenberg shared a picture on Twitter with Gaetz at the White House in June 2019, as the Times pointed out. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Gaetz gave a bizarre and puzzling response to the Times when asked about the case, seeming to confirm at least some parts of the report:

Mr. Gaetz said in an interview that his lawyers had been in touch with the Justice Department and that they were told he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation. "I only know that it has to do with women," Mr. Gaetz said. "I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward."

After this piece and the Times story were initially published, Gaetz gave more extended comments to Axios.

"I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I've dated. 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," he said. He added that "absolutely" none of the women were underage."

"The allegations of sexual misconduct against me are false," he told reporter Jonathan Swan. "They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away."

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