A scandal involving Matt Gaetz — a “Gaetzgate,” if you will — was guaranteed to be extra strange, even by his standards. The three-term Republican from Florida is one of the most colorful members of Congress: He appears on Fox News more often than some of its correspondents; is prone to attention getting stunts like wearing a gas mask on the floor of the House early in the COVID pandemic; and manages somehow to be both one of the most ardent yet self-aware defenders of Donald Trump. Now he is not only under federal investigation for allegedly transporting a teen girl across state lines for sex — stemming from an investigation of an indicted Bitcoin-loving tax collector pal of his — he is also apparently wrapped up in an alleged blackmail scheme to free an American hostage in Iran who is probably dead.
The New York Times set the political world on fire Tuesday night when it reported that Gaetz was being investigated for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paying for her to travel across state lines. Not only did he deny the claims, he went on Fox News to turn Tucker Carlson into a character witness and sketch an elaborate conspiracy to extort both him and his father, Don Gaetz, that the congressman says prompted the story in the Times.
Gaetz points the finger at David McGee, a lawyer who worked on the case of Robert Levinson, an American taken hostage by the Iranian government in 2007 and is now believed to be dead. McGee, a former federal prosecutor who now practices law in Florida, is accused of shaking down Don Gaetz through Bob Kent, a former Air Force intelligence officer who also worked on the Levinson case: The alleged scheme involves $25 million in cash to make the sex-trafficking case go away and somehow free Levinson. The Washington Post confirmed Wednesday the broad outlines of Gaetz’s allegations, though McGee denied the allegations to the Post. (Kent did not respond to requests for comment.) The Post reported that McGee and Kent learned of the investigation into Gaetz when they allegedly approached his father, Don Gaetz, who made a fortune in the hospice industry.
In the timeline that Gaetz laid out in his interview with Tucker Carlson on Tuesday night, he said: “Our family was so troubled by that, we went to the local FBI, and the FBI and the Department of Justice were so concerned about this attempted extortion of a member of Congress that they asked my dad to wear a wire, which he did with the former Department of Justice official.”
In a text message exchange viewed by Intelligencer purportedly between Kent and Don Gaetz, Kent outlined a scheme to help Gaetz defuse the scandal. “I would like to talk with you about the current federal investigation and the indictment that is about to be filed against your son. I have a plan that can make his future legal and political problems go away.” Kent then supposedly gave a document to Don Gaetz at a meeting the next day, which claims that the FBI has “compromising pictures” of Matt Gaetz engaged in a “sexual orgy with underaged prostitutes.” However, in exchange for $25 million from Don Gaetz, it would secure Levinson’s release and a pardon for Matt Gaetz from President Biden. It is not clear, to put it mildly, how either thing would be pulled off.
Around this time, a lawyer for Don Gaetz named Jeffrey Neiman emailed a federal prosecutor in Florida, to confirm that the older Gaetz was working with the FBI. The prosecutor wrote back: “I can confirm that your client is working with my office as well as the FBI at the government’s request.” Neiman confirmed the authenticity of the exchange to Intelligencer but declined to comment further. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida declined to comment, saying that she could not confirm or deny any investigation.
The investigation into Gaetz stems from the federal prosecution of Joel Greenberg, the former elected tax collector in Seminole County, Florida. Greenberg was slapped with more than a dozen charges alleging he trafficked girls for sex across state lines and forged fake IDs for them and himself, as well as stalking his wife. Greenberg, who was the first tax collector in the country to take payments in cryptocurrency, resigned from office after being indicted and has since pleaded not guilty. Gaetz and Greenberg were close: They posed for a picture together at the White House and apparently have several ex-girlfriends in common.
The question is what the possible extortion has to do with the investigation into Gaetz. The 38-year-old Gaetz has long been one of the more prominent bachelors in Congress. Mother Jones reported in 2019 that he was dating a 21-year-old intern with an Instagram account that included images of her smoking marijuana. Gaetz, who is currently engaged to a 26-year-old, told the Times of the investigation, “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
The scenario that Gaetz has brought forward is almost certainly too bizarre to be made up. After all, the easiest way to deny a crime with an underage girl is simply to deny it, not to hatch an elaborate conspiracy. However, if Gaetz is the victim of extortion, it doesn’t serve to prove innocence or his guilt of the charges being investigated. It just makes a very weird case even stranger. But then again, the first two words Gaetz uses to describe himself on Twitter are “Florida Man” and everything in Florida is always weirder than it seems.