It's been two weeks since 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, possibly violating federal sex trafficking laws in the process. As we've discussed, the scope of the scandal surrounding the Florida Republican has grown considerably since the initial revelations.
It appears the snowball continues to grow as it tumbles downhill.
Late last week, NBC News reported that federal investigators are examining "Gaetz's travel to the Bahamas with women and specifically whether those women were paid to travel for sex, which could violate federal law." CBS News, which was first to report on this angle to the story, added that the alleged Bahamas trip was in late 2018 or early 2019, and investigators are specifically examining whether the Republican congressman "violated sex trafficking laws."
Politico added new details to the story in an overnight report:
The group took off for their Bahamas weekend getaway on three separate flights. Most of the passengers, which included at least five young women, flew out of Orlando on two separate private planes. Matt Gaetz flew commercial. The details of that September 2018 trip are sparse, but they are critical to the allegations against Gaetz, the Florida congressman currently the subject of a federal sex-crimes investigation that is threatening his career.
The article added that "the former minor who is key to the investigation" was among those who went to the Bahamas as part of the trip, though by that point, she'd turned 18. It appears investigators are scrutinizing the nature of her relationship with Gaetz before she became a legal adult.
Also of interest, Politico's report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, added that federal agents also "executed a search warrant" and "seized" the GOP congressman's iPhone, as well as the phone of one of Gaetz's former girlfriends.
It's not clear exactly when this is believed to have happened -- the article said agents executed a search warrant "this winter" -- but Politico added that the Florida Republican "changed his phone number in late December."
And then, of course, there's accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, one of the congressman's close friends, whom Gaetz reportedly described as a "wingman." The New York Times reported overnight that Greenberg has been providing information to investigators "since last year" on "an array of topics," including the Florida congressman's activities.
The article added that Greenberg "disclosed to investigators that he and Mr. Gaetz had encounters with women who were given cash or gifts in exchange for sex, the people said." (This reporting has also not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News.)
As for Gaetz's overall standing, for now, a grand total of one congressional Republican has called for his resignation. Politico reported overnight that House GOP leaders are keeping a close eye on the scandal, "but his position inside the House GOP conference is safe — at least for now." The Associated Press added that Florida's two Republican U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, are also taking a wait-and-see approach.
Gaetz, who continues to deny any wrongdoing, sent out a fundraising appeal late last week, describing the controversy as "just another media hoax." To the extent that reality still has meaning, the congressman has also already acknowledged the federal criminal investigation into his alleged activities, so it's difficult to see how his mess is journalists' fault.
The Florida Republican's appeal for cash added, "Do you remember the fake Russia Hoax? Their attempt to frame General Flynn? I do ... and now they are coming for me."
Again, the Russia scandal was quite real and disgraced former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a former foreign agent, was not "framed."
Evidently, however, Gaetz believes peddling strange conspiracy theories will help him raise more money from donors who don't know better.