On Friday, Matt Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend reportedly agreed to cooperate in the federal probe into the Florida representative to determine if he paid an underage girl to travel across state lines to have sex, an allegation that could constitute the sex trafficking of a minor if true. Such a development would give most members of Congress pause, but it did not stop Gaetz, who is adopting Trump’s most recent approach to crisis management: ignoring the allegations at hand to focus on baseless claims of election fraud.
Later on Friday night, Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene — his counterpart who this weekend compared a mask mandate in the House to the Holocaust — appeared in Maricopa County to support Arizona Republicans’ latest audit of November’s vote totals. Though the Department of Justice has warned that this third recount may be unconstitutional because ballots are no longer in the hands of election officials, Gaetz said before a crowd in Mesa, Arizona, that he and Greene were there “in solidarity with” the program. Unfortunately for the combative pair, the effort may need more than just a fly-in show of solidarity, as the greenhorn firm conducting the audit, Cyber Ninjas, doesn’t really know they’re doing, according to Politico.
More importantly, Gaetz announced that “Arizona will be the launchpad” for more recount efforts, as the pair continue their “America First” tour across the United States, including a stop this week in Greene’s home district in Dalton, Georgia. In nearby Fulton County, comprising much of Atlanta, a County Superior Court Judge ruled on Friday that 145,000 absentee ballots could be unsealed as part of another recount. Like in Arizona, the new count cannot change the election results, which were certified this winter and have already been confirmed by three recounts. Unlike in Arizona, the judge has ruled that ballots must remain in the custody of county election officials, to avoid DOJ warnings that such an effort is unconstitutional.
The fact that Gaetz is trying to refocus his supporters’ attention away from an ongoing sex-trafficking investigation is not new to his political crisis: Since the news first broke in March, he has deflected and denied any wrongdoing, even as his colleagues attempted to bury him by discussing alleged creepy behavior on the House floor. His campaign to cast doubt on the election results underlines just how deeply his career rests on his support of the former president.
As the investigation develops, Gaetz will need to do a lot of distracting. Days before the report on the cooperation of his ex-girlfriend — a former Capitol Hill staffer whose name has not been made public — the representative’s “wingman” Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty to six federal charges, including one count of sex trafficking a minor. As part of the deal, he also has agreed to “cooperate fully” with federal investigations into any alleged conspirators.