Leading Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz investigated over sexual relationship

A top Republican ally of Donald Trump is the subject of an investigation into “sexual conduct with women”, it emerged on Tuesday.

Matt Gaetz, a congressman from Florida, confirmed he was the subject of the Department of Justice investigation but denied that he had ever had a relationship with underage girls.

It came after the New York Times reported that Mr Gaetz was being investigated over allegations he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, whom he allegedly paid to travel with him.

Federal investigators were examining whether the 38-year-old violated federal sex trafficking laws, the newspaper reported.

Mr Gaetz is one of Mr Trump’s most prominent supporters in Washington and a regular face on conservative media. He is also considered a potential future presidential candidate.

The Department of Justice investigation was reportedly opened in the final months of the Trump administration, when the department was being led by former attorney general Bill Barr.

Several senior officials were notified of the probe because of Mr Gatez’s prominent public profile, according to the New York Times.

Mr Gaetz said his lawyers had been informed that he was the subject of an investigation but that he was not a target of the probe.

He denied that he ever had a relationship with any underage girls and said the allegations against him were “as searing as they are false.”

According to the New York Times, the investigation into Mr Gaetz was part of a broader federal investigation into one of the congressman’s friends – Joel Greenberg, a fellow Florida politician.

Mr Greenberg was indicted last summer on various charges, including sex trafficking of a minor. He has denied the charges and is due to go on trial in June.

Mr Gaetz has not been charged with a crime. The congressman claimed in interviews with US news outlets that the allegations were part of an extortion plot by a former Department of Justice official.

“I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorise my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” Mr Gaetz told the New York Times.

He called the allegation that he had travelled with a 17-year-old girl “verifiably false”.

Mr Gaetz said his family has been cooperating with the FBI and that he and his father had been wearing a recording device at the bureau’s request “to catch these criminals.”

“Over the past several weeks my family and I have been victims of an organised criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name,” he said in a statement.

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