Since he arrived in Washington, D.C., in 2017, Representative Matt Gaetz has prided himself on making very few friends at the Capitol. “When I first got to Washington, the party leaders said ‘Gaetz, it seems to us you’re not really a team player,’ and I said ‘I am, but you’re not my team,’” he told a crowd this week in the panhandle town of Niceville, in the heart of his Florida district.
But Gaetz’s D.C. dynamic — pursuing media opportunities to promote himself, while securing few legislative successes and antagonizing fellow Republicans — doesn’t seem to have paid off, as he faces a bizarre scandal involving the alleged sex trafficking of a minor and a distracting counter-scandal involving an alleged extortion plot against him and his father. Very few Republicans have come to his defense since the New York Times broke the story of the Department of Justice investigation into an incident around two years ago in which Gaetz allegedly paid a 17-year-old to travel across state lines for sex. While House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy offered a tepid “let’s get all the information” on Wednesday, only two GOP representatives have come out directly in support of their attention-loving colleague from Florida: Jim Jordan, who has been accused of ignoring widespread sexual abuse in the Ohio State wrestling program where he was a coach; and Marjorie Taylor Greene, the representative stripped of her committee assignments who has been an open advocate of a baseless conspiracy condemning widespread child abuse among Democrats. It’s also been quiet at Mar-a-Lago: Though Gaetz was one of Donald Trump’s brashest defenders in the House, the former president and his eldest son have yet to offer a public statement on their ally’s predicament.
His defenders are a motley few, but more concerning for Gaetz is the number of House Republicans who are piling on while the dirt is flowing. On Thursday, the Daily Beast spoke with half-a-dozen lawmakers about Gaetz’s “love of alcohol and illegal drugs, as well as his proclivity for younger women.” Lawmakers described a “well-known” incident in which Gaetz dated a college student over the age of 18 in 2018, who came to D.C. as an intern. One former Hill staffer said that their office had an informal rule not allowing their representative to appear next to Gaetz on TV, as a general practice to avoid unnecessary scandal. “I don’t think a lot of people are going to go out of their way to defend him, especially with this outlandish-sounding defense,” one GOP staffer said. “I don’t think you’ll find a lot of people who are desperate to keep him involved in Republican politics.”
Lawmakers provided more details on Gaetz’s alleged workplace behavior in a report from CNN:
Behind the scenes, Gaetz gained a reputation in Congress over his relationships with women and bragging about his sexual escapades to his colleagues, multiple sources told CNN.
Gaetz allegedly showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with, the sources told CNN, including while on the House floor. The sources, including two people directly shown the material, said Gaetz displayed the images of women on his phone and talked about having sex with them. One of the videos showed a naked woman with a hula hoop, according to one source.
“It was a point of pride,” one of the sources said of Gaetz.
That behavior began in the Florida statehouse, ABC News reports, where Gaetz participated in a “game” with other lawmakers to score the women they had sex with, rating them with a points for virgins, interns, staffers, and fellow female lawmakers.
Gaetz has denied any impropriety and the reports on Thursday do not corroborate any details from his alleged act of sex trafficking. They do, however, present a picture of Gaetz’s questionable decision-making at an inopportune time: On Thursday, CNN also reported that the DOJ investigation is looking into whether or not the representative misused campaign funds to pay for the teenager to travel to him to have sex.
Meanwhile, a relevant passage from Gaetz’s 2020 book has been making the rounds: “I arrived in DC as a single man after a couple of long-term relationships that didn’t work out. I knew going in how many people had been brought down by sexual missteps in this town, so I set some rules to help myself err on the safe(r) side.” For his own benefit, the safe(r) side probably could have been safer.