As the scandal surrounding Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) grew more serious, there was no shortage of House Republicans quietly celebrating his crisis. These intra-party critics, however, had one important thing in common: they preferred to remain anonymous. Indeed, before last night, the grand total of GOP lawmakers calling for the Florida congressman's ouster was zero.
That's no longer the case. Politico reported overnight:
Rep. Adam Kinzinger called on fellow Republican lawmaker Matt Gaetz to resign Thursday night, making him the first Republican to do so since it was revealed that the Justice Department is investigating the Florida congressman over sex trafficking allegations. Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran and one of former President Donald Trump's fiercest critics within the party, has previously targeted Gaetz, along with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), with the creation of a political action committee that aimed to help fund Republican candidates who have separated themselves from Trumpism.
Kinzinger shared his new position by way of a simple, five-word tweet that read, "Matt Gaetz needs to resign."
The Illinois congressman published the brief missive in response to this Daily Beast report, which alleged that Gaetz sent his friend, accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, money through a mobile money-transfer service called Venmo in May 2018, and the next morning, Greenberg used the same app to send the same amount of money to three young women.
The reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, added, "The memo field for the first of Gaetz's transactions to Greenberg was titled 'Test.' In the second, the Florida GOP congressman wrote 'hit up ___.' But instead of a blank, Gaetz wrote a nickname for one of the recipients. (The Daily Beast is not sharing that nickname because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.)"
This roughly coincided with news that the Republican congressman's legislative director has resigned, joining Gaetz's communications director, who has also left.
All of this, of course, comes against a backdrop in which Greenberg moved toward a plea deal with federal prosecutors, creating new dangers for Gaetz. Indeed, Greenberg's lawyer briefly spoke to reporters outside an Orlando courthouse yesterday and said, in unsubtle terms, "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today."
A New York Times report added overnight that the scope of the investigation into the congressman's activities appears to be expanding. In addition to the controversies we already know about, investigators have also reportedly been told of "a conversation where Mr. Gaetz and a prominent Florida lobbyist discussed arranging a sham candidate in a state Senate race last year to siphon votes from an ally's opponent."
Gaetz has repeatedly denied any criminal wrongdoing, though he's acknowledged the Justice Department investigation into his alleged misdeeds.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged last week that the allegations surrounding Gaetz are "serious," and the GOP leader intended to have a private meeting with the Floridian about the controversy. It's not yet clear if that meeting has taken place.