It was Tuesday night when the New York Times first reported that the Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor and may have paid for her to travel with him, possibly violating federal sex trafficking laws in the process.
The allegations, which the congressman has denied, came to the attention of federal law enforcement as part of a larger investigation into one of Gaetz's political allies: Joel Greenberg, an almost comically scandalous figure, who has been indicted on a variety of crimes, "including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl."
Overnight, the New York Times advanced this story in dramatic ways.
A Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments, according to people close to the investigation and text messages and payment receipts reviewed by The New York Times.
Practically every paragraph in the Times' report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, adds to the appalling nature of the allegations. The article added, for example, that federal investigators believe Greenberg would meet women "through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts," and then introduce the women to the Republican congressman, "who also had sex with them."
Gaetz, one of Donald Trump's most flamboyant congressional allies, continues to deny the allegations.
Nevertheless, according to the reporting, the alleged sexual encounters occurred as recently as 2019 and 2020, with Gaetz and Greenberg allegedly instructing women on where to meet them and receive financial offers. "Some of the men and women took ecstasy," the Times reported, "an illegal mood-altering drug, before having sex, including Mr. Gaetz, two people familiar with the encounters said."
The Florida congressman also allegedly asked women to help recruit others "who might be interested in having sex with him and his friends." Should potential recruits ask, the article added, Gaetz told the women "to say that he had paid for hotel rooms and dinners as part of their dates."
Of particular interest, the newspaper went on to note that it had reviewed receipts from Cash App and Apple Pay "that show payments from Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg to one of the women, and a payment from Mr. Greenberg to a second woman. The women told their friends that the payments were for sex with the two men, according to two people familiar with the conversations."
If accurate, this suggests there may be a financial paper trail -- in effect, receipts -- that investigators can follow as part of the ongoing investigation.
And while it's worth emphasizing that there's nothing inherently controversial about a man providing a woman with gifts such as meals and hotel stays, the Times added, "[I]f 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.' For example, prosecutors have filed trafficking charges against people suspected of providing drugs in exchange for sex because feeding another person's drug habit could be seen as a form of coercion."
The same article went on to note, "It is also a violation of federal child sex trafficking law to provide someone under 18 with anything of value in exchange for sex, which can include meals, hotels, drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. A conviction carries a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence."
This reporting came on the heels of CNN reporting -- which has also not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News -- that said federal investigators are examining whether Gaetz used federal campaign funds while "paying for travel and expenses for the women." CNN added that the Florida Republican "showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with," including boasts made while on the floor of the U.S. House.
Congress isn't holding formal legislative sessions this week, so Capitol Hill is relatively quiet, though it shouldn't surprise anyone if there's quite a bit of talk today about Gaetz resigning in disgrace.