Congressman Matt Gaetz on Tuesday night denied he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him after The New York Times reported that the Justice Department was investigating the matter. Gaetz, a close ally of former President Trump, appeared on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight," where he claimed he was the victim of an attempted extortion.
The New York Times, citing three unnamed sources, reported that investigators are looking into whether Gaetz "violated federal sex trafficking laws." The investigation reportedly began under the Trump administration.
Gaetz denied the relationship to Carlson and in a separate statement. "The person doesn't exist. I have not had a relationship with a 17-year-old," Gaetz told Carlson. "That is totally false."
Gaetz also alleged that a former Justice Department official — whom he named on television — was trying to extort him and his family out of $25 million in exchange for "making horrible sex trafficking allegations against me go away."
Gaetz told Carlson he reported the alleged extortion attempt to the FBI. He claimed the FBI asked his father to wear a wire during conversations with the former DOJ official, and called on the bureau to release the audio recordings of the resulting conversations to "prove my innocence."
In response to the blackmail accusation leveled at him by Gaetz, the former Justice Department official, David McGee, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that any reports of extortion involving him or his firm were "completely, totally false."
"This is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that Matt Gaetz is apparently about to be indicted for sex trafficking underage girls," McGee also said.
He also questioned the timing of the Times article, claiming that his father was supposed to contact the former DOJ official on Wednesday to coordinate a $4.5 million down payment on the bribe. "The planted leak to the New York Times tonight was intended to thwart that investigation," Gaetz said in a statement.
The New York Times story was published just hours after several outlets reported that Gaetz, 38, was considering not running for reelection and floated that he wanted a job at Newsmax, a conservative media network.
Gaetz is a member of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, and Congressman Ted Lieu on Tuesday night called for him to be suspended from that committee while the investigation is ongoing.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that Gaetz should be removed from House Judiciary Committee if the allegation against him "comes out to be true," but McCarthy said he didn't have enough information to make a judgment yet. McCarthy said he hadn't yet spoken to Gaetz but hoped to on Wednesday.
Zachary Hudak contributed reporting.