Two days after the New York Times first broke the story of the Department of Justice investigation into Matt Gaetz’s potential relationship with a 17-year-old girl — which could have violated federal statues prohibiting the sex trafficking of a minor — the paper has some arresting new details regarding the inquiry into the brash Republican congressman from Florida.
According to the new report, the DOJ probe is focused on alleged payments from Gaetz and his friend, former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, to women who Greenberg met on escort sites. The Times has reviewed payments from Gaetz and Greenberg on Cash App and Apple Pay to one women, who says she told her friends that the payments were in exchange for sex with the two men. One of the women who had sex with both Gaetz and Greenberg says she also agreed to have sex with an unidentified friend of theirs active in Florida Republican politics. According to the Times:
In encounters during 2019 and 2020, Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg instructed the women to meet at certain times and places, often at hotels around Florida, and would tell them the amount of money they were willing to pay, according to the messages and interviews.
One person said that the men also paid in cash, sometimes withdrawn from a hotel ATM.
Some of the men and women took ecstasy, an illegal hallucinogenic drug, before having sex, including Mr. Gaetz, two people familiar with the encounters said.
In some cases, Mr. Gaetz asked women to help find others who might be interested in having sex with him and his friends, according to two people familiar with those conversations. Should anyone inquire about their relationships, one person said, Mr. Gaetz told the women to say that he had paid for hotel rooms and dinners as part of their dates.
The FBI is also reportedly involved in the inquiry, interviewing the women who were paid by Gaetz to get a sense of their relationship with Gaetz and his associates. While it isn’t illegal to provide consenting adults with free hotel stays and other gifts, the Times notes that “if prosecutors think they can prove that the payments to the women were for sex, they could accuse Mr. Gaetz of trafficking the women under ‘force, fraud or coercion.’”
Returning to the potential exposure for trafficking a minor, the DOJ is also trying to determine if Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and if she received anything in exchange of material value. (Greenberg’s sex trafficking charge — one of over 20 charges he is facing — involves the same teenager.) It is a violation of federal sex-trafficking statutes to give someone under 18 money or anything of value in exchange for sex; a conviction for such an act involves a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. In response to the new report, the representative issued a memorable denial:
“Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex,” the statement said. “Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life.”
As the details rapidly unfurl regarding the inquiry into Gaetz’s alleged improprieties, the scandal is developing in a tabloid manner consistent with the representative’s appetite for attention. In what some have criticized as a deflection, Gaetz brought up an apparently legitimate story surrounding an extortion attempt on his family. And though Gaetz has boasted about his refusal to socialize with fellow members of Congress, CNN reported on Thursday of his alleged habit of showing nude videos and pictures of women he had sex with to his colleagues while on the House floor.