House Ethics probe adds to Rep. Matt Gaetz’s woes

Three-term Florida Republican has aggressively declared his innocence

Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 9, 2021 at 5:08pm

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee after published reports about allegations that include sexual misconduct, illicit drug use, campaign finance violations and other potential violations of federal law and House rules.

Published reports have also said Gaetz, one of the most outspoken supporters of former President Donald Trump, is under a federal criminal investigation. He has aggressively maintained his innocence, but on Thursday one of his GOP colleagues, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, called for his resignation.

The Ethics Committee issued a statement Friday saying that based on public reports, it was looking into whether Gaetz “engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct.”

The panel’s announcement comes more than a week after The New York Times reported on March 30 that the Justice Department was investigating whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old and paying for the teen to travel with him. The criminal investigation into Gaetz started last year, while Trump, with whom Gaetz says he is close, was still in office. The inquiry stemmed from an investigation into Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg, according to the Times.

Greenberg, a former tax collector for Seminole County, has been indicted on several charges, including sex trafficking. A court hearing in Greenberg’s case Thursday revealed he is in negotiations with prosecutors about a possible plea deal.

“I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, said after the hearing, according to reports.

Jillian Lane Wyant, chief of staff for Gaetz, said the allegations were false.

“Once again, the office will reiterate, these allegations are blatantly false and have not been validated by a single human being willing to put their name behind them,” Wyant said in an email to CQ Roll Call after the Ethics Committee’s announcement.

When the Department of Justice investigates members of Congress, the Ethics panel usually plays a passive role and lets prosecutors take the lead. This was the case for former GOP Reps. Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California, two other close allies of Trump. Both were sentenced to prison but were later pardoned by Trump.

Gaetz published an op-ed in the Washington Examiner on Monday denying the allegations against him and defiantly declaring, “I am absolutely not resigning.” Gaetz is serving his third term after winning reelection in November with 65 percent of the vote in a district on the Florida Panhandle.

“First, I have never, ever paid for sex. And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old,” the 38-year-old Gaetz wrote. “My lifestyle of yesteryear may be different from how I live now, but it was not and is not illegal.” 

But incriminating reports on Gaetz continued to pile up. The Daily Beast reported Thursday that Gaetz sent Greenberg $900 in two consecutive Venmo transactions, with the latter containing instructions for Greenberg to “hit up” an 18-year-old woman to whom they were both connected on the payment app. Greenberg then sent money to three young women the next morning, including the 18-year-old, totaling $900, the report said.

The Times reported April 8 that investigators were in the early stages of looking into an allegation that Gaetz and a prominent Florida lobbyist discussed arranging for a sham state Senate candidate to siphon votes from an ally’s opponent last year, which could broaden the Justice Department inquiry beyond sex trafficking into campaign finance law violations.