Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz says a Justice Department investigation of what he calls "sexual conduct with women" is "rooted" in an extortion scheme against his wealthy family. But insiders say the alleged scheme started months after the investigation was opened during the Trump administration. Sources tell the Washington Post that two men who had somehow found out about the investigation approached Gaetz's father, prominent Republican Don Gaetz, and offered to help his son with his legal problems if he funded their efforts to rescue Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran 14 years ago. The elder Gaetz contacted the FBI about the request and the agency is investigating whether it constitutes extortion, the sources say. More:
- "Project Homecoming." According to screenshots provided to the Washington Examiner, former Air Force intelligence officer Bob Kent asked Don Gaetz for $25 million to fund "Project Homecoming," promised that his son would get the credit for the operation, and said the team that rescued Levinson would push for a presidential pardon or the dropping of the Justice Department investigation.
- The Gaetz allegations. The New York Times, citing "three people briefed on the matter," reported that an investigation was opened during the Trump administration into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in a potential violation of federal sex trafficking laws.
- Lawyer rejects Gaetz claim. Matt Gaetz claimed Tuesday that Levinson family lawyer David McGee, a former federal prosecutor, was involved in the scheme, but McGee strongly rejected the allegation, the Post reports. "It’s a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors," McGee said.
- Gaetz says father wore a wire. Gaetz told CNN that the "planted leak" to the Times was part of an effort to "thwart" the extortion investigation. He said the allegations against him were false "and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI's direction to catch these criminals." Sources tell CNN that the federal extortion investigation is being handled separately from the investigation of Gaetz.
- One of Tucker Carlson's "weirdest interviews." One of Gaetz's numerous media appearances after the allegations surfaced Tuesday was what Fox's Tucker Carlson called "one of the weirdest interviews" he had ever conducted, Vox reports. One exchange started with Gaetz saying, "Actually you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine—you’ll remember her—and she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that could face trouble." Carlson replied, "I don’t remember the woman you’re speaking of or the context at all, honestly."
- Media blitz could backfire. Legal experts say that Gaetz's Trump-style strategy of countering the allegations with a blitz of media appearances could backfire on him, Politico reports. They note that Gaetz has now drawn more attention to the allegations—and confirmed that he paid for women to cross state lines.
- McCarthy says he could be removed from committee posts. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the allegations against Gaetz are serious and he could be removed from House committee posts if more evidence emerges, but "we don't have any information" right now. Sources tell the Hill that Gaetz has few friends outside the hardline conservative wing of the GOP caucus and many lawmakers see the scandal as a "self-inflicted wound."
- Democrats want him to step aside. Democrats are calling for Gaetz to step aside from the House Judiciary Committee while he is under investigation, the AP reports. "You can’t have Gaetz sitting on the Congressional Committee that has oversight over the Department that is investigating him," Rep. Ted Lieu said in a statement.
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