On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is under FBI investigation for allegedly traveling interstate for the purpose of having sex with a minor. If convicted of that crime, Gaetz could face up to 15 years in federal prison.
In the process of publicly defending himself, Gaetz appears to have exposed a pending FBI extortion investigation.
But that was just the beginning. Almost immediately after the story broke, Gaetz tried to publicly rebut the claim by denying the allegation while simultaneously offering varying versions of a convoluted conspiracy against him. In the process of defending himself, Gaetz appears to have exposed a pending FBI extortion investigation.
Gaetz may be telling the truth; then again, he may be lying — or perhaps it’s a combination of both. Either way, he’s in deep trouble.
And either way, Gaetz has handed FBI agents and prosecutors plenty of questions to follow up on when they sit him down and ask him to explain his several contradictory statements. If he’s smart, and there’s little evidence that he is, he’ll invoke his right to remain silent — which he should have done before granting interviews to the press.
Instead, Gaetz generated even more self-inflicted wounds when he talked to the media. Part of his defense included his revelation that the FBI is actively working an extortion case against a former Department of Justice official.
Gaetz may be telling the truth; then again, he may be lying. Either way, he’s in deep trouble.
If that’s true, that wasn’t Gaetz’s revelation to make. In fact, if Gaetz exposed a pending criminal case he may have endangered the safety of FBI informants, undercover agents, cooperating witnesses and even his father, who Gaetz says — and his father affirmed — has worn a wire in furtherance of the FBI inquiry.If the FBI was using court-authorized wiretaps, those techniques are likely compromised. That means Gaetz could now be facing additional charges of obstruction of justice.
If any of Gaetz’s public denials about interstate travel and sex with a minor are true, he’s going to have to pick which version of which truth he’s going to stick to. Within 24 hours of the Times’ revelation, Gaetz made varying statements to various media outlets. When the subject of a pending criminal investigation provides multiple off-the-cuff media interviews to different entities, they run the risk of making conflicting statements that can be used to impeach them in court. This is precisely the trap that Gaetz appears to have fallen into, sometimes within the same conversation.
In one interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on the night the initial Times article was published, Gaetz insisted that the 17-year-old girl in the allegation against him “doesn’t exist.” Yet in the same interview, he attempted to draw Carlson into the scandal by asserting that Carlson had been to dinner with Gaetz and the girl — which seemingly implies that she does exist. (According to a CNN source, Gaetz’s tactic made Carlson “livid.”)
Gaetz has handed FBI agents and prosecutors plenty of questions to follow up on when they inevitably sit him down and ask him to explain his several contradictory statements.
Gaetz dug a deeper hole for himself when he gave a statement to Axios that could be inferred as an admission that he might have engaged in criminal acts with a minor: "I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know, when I was a single guy." Then, in the same interview, the congressman conceded that he is the subject of the reported investigation while appearing to inadvertently disclose that the investigation involves multiple female victims.
Gaetz said his lawyers were informed by the Justice Department that "I was not a target but a subject of an investigation regarding sexual conduct with women." That’s “women” — plural.
Also, in case you’re wondering, Gaetz refers to 17-year-old girls as “women,” which he did in another interview Tuesday night, as reported by the Times. “It is verifiably false that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman,” he said. That leaves a few holes; when Gaetz says he’s never “traveled” with a 17-year-old “woman,” does he mean they traveled separately but he paid for her expenses? Or, does he mean that he has had sex with a 17 year old, just not related to interstate travel?
When Axios asked what the charges could relate to, Gaetz said: "I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I've dated. You know, I've paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not." In the same interview, Gaetz said he was "absolutely" confident none of the women were underage.
Perhaps his many contradictory disclosures were meant to delay or hinder the investigation, intimidate witnesses or generally neutralize the FBI’s efforts, because he knew their inquiry might not corroborate that he was really being extorted. Perhaps, just maybe, the extortion claim was a ruse designed by Gaetz to explain why people would make such allegations against him.
The FBI, of course, can’t comment on a pending sex trafficking investigation nor an active extortion case. Gaetz knows that. So, unless his lawyer can talk some sense into him, we’re left with a U.S. congressman publicly claiming he’s being set up while he further incriminates himself with each denial. Stay tuned.