Mr Gaetz faces a federal investigation over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid her to travel with him, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story.
The investigation is said to be focused on whether Mr Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws by paying for the girl to travel with him, according to the newspaper, citing three people briefed on it.
He has denied the allegations, saying they are “as searing as they are false,” he told Axios.
The investigation is reportedly part of a larger probe into Joel Greenberg, a Florida official and political ally of Mr Gaetz who was indicted last summer on child sex trafficking charges. Mr Greenberg faces 14 charges, including allegations of stalking a political opponent, using a state database to create fake IDs, and sex trafficking a minor. He faces a trial in June.
In a statement, the congressman – a close ally to Donald Trump and a prominent right-wing media personality – has claimed that his family has been targeted as part of a “criminal extortion” scheme involving a former Justice Department official who is seeking $25m “while threatening to smear my name”.
“We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter,” the 38-year-old congressman said in a series of posts on Twitter.
He claims that his father “has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals”.
“The planted leak to the FBI tonight was intended to thwart that investigation,” he said. “No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets … of the ongoing extortion investigation. I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.”
Justice Department investigators are reportedly looking into encounters between Mr Gaetz and the girl that were alleged to have taken place two years ago, when she was 17.
The probe reportedly began in the final months of the Trump administration under then-US Attorney General William Barr.
“I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated,” Mr Gaetz told Axios when asked what potential charges the Justice Department is weighing against him.
“You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner,” he told the outlet. “I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”
US Rep Ted Lieu, a Democrat who serves with Mr Gaetz on the House Judiciary Committee, has called on him to be removed from the committee until the conclusion of the investigation.
“He should not be sitting on a Congressional Committee with oversight over the DOJ while the Department is investigating him,” he said.
He added: “Pretty sure the [FBI] and [the Justice Department] would not have wanted Rep Matt Gaetz to disclose that his father was wearing a wire (if Rep Gaetz is even telling the truth).”
Mr Gaetz – a self-defined right-wing “firebrand” and a member of the congressional Freedom Caucus that supported rejecting results from the 2020 presidential election – has echoed Mr Trump’s agenda and routinely served as a GOP foil to Democratic lawmakers, in the halls of Congress, on television and across social media.
During a recent appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast, Mr Gaetz called the former president the “greatest … in my lifetime, one of the greatest presidents our country’s ever had, maybe the greatest president our country has ever had.”
In 2017, he was the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against a proposal to boost funding and resources to the federal government to combat human trafficking.
Earlier on Tuesday, reports circulated that the congressman was mulling early retirement for a job at Newsmax.
His personal life has also previously made headlines. Following an emotional hearing on the state of racism and police violence last year, he announced that he has been raising a teenage “son” from Cuba, though he has not adopted Nestor Galban, 19, who has a biological father. Mr Gaetz was dating Nestor’s sister when Nestor was 12 years old.
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