Reprinted with permission from American Independent
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) seized on right-wing media reports on Wednesday to falsely suggest that he has been exonerated in a federal investigation into whether he engaged in sex trafficking of a minor. There is no indication that prosecutors have cleared him of anything.
Gaetz retweeted a One America News report titled "Rep. Matt Gaetz Exonerated, Fla. Developer Charged With Extortion." That story claimed, without any evidence, "Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has been exonerated and the Department of Justice's sex trafficking investigation has been shut down as the man who made the false allegations is now behind bars."
Gaetz also tweeted a Newsmax story about the indictment of a man in an alleged scheme to extort him with the comment "EXONERATED: Alford Indicted for Extortion Plot Against Matt Gaetz. 'It certainly shows that these claims about me were never true. They were used to try to bleed my family out of tens of millions of dollars.'"
But even the friendly Newsmax report he shared contradicts this claim: "The indictment does not clear Congressman Matt Gaetz, but it most certainly adds to his credibility. He told us there was an extortion scheme at play."
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida announced Tuesday that it has indicted Stephen Alford in a "scheme to defraud a victim out of $25 million" based on a dishonest claim that he "could deliver a Presidential Pardon for a family member of the victim."
The Justice Department did not respond to an inquiry for this story. But sources told the Washington Post that the referenced victim was Gaetz's father, former Florida state Sen. Don Gaetz, and that the pardon would have been for his son.
The Post reported that Alford and others involved in the alleged extortion scheme were unconnected to the ongoing sex-crimes investigation into Matt Gaetz; they merely knew about it before it was reported publicly.
On March 30, the New York Times first reported that Gaetz was facing a federal investigation into whether he had engaged in a sexual relationship with an underage girl and paid for her travel in a possible violation of sex trafficking laws.
A spokesperson for Gaetz did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story, but the Florida Republican has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Last month, ABC News reported that Gaetz's former "wingman," former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, had provided federal investigators records of Venmo and Cash App transactions, photos, videos, and social media communications that could implicate Gaetz.
After pleading guilty in May to charges of sex trafficking of a child and five other federal offenses, none of which to date have named Gaetz, Greenberg said he would give "substantial assistance" to the Justice Department.
So far, House Republicans have stood by Gaetz and let him keep his committee posts — including on the House Judiciary Committee — during the investigation.
"Those are serious implications," Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News in March. "If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that was the case. But right now Matt Gaetz says it is not true, and we don't have any information. So let's get all the information."
The progressive research group American Bridge 21st Century posted audio on Monday of Gaetz at an August 27 New Hampshire campaign event in which he jokes about his response to a question from tourists about "weird sexual allegations" that he and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) have in common. Gaetz says he responded, "No, that was Jordan."
Jordan has been accused by former student wrestlers at the Ohio State University of ignoring sexual abuse by a team doctor during his tenure there as an assistant coach. Jordan has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.