Pelosi says Gaetz could be removed from committee assignments if sex trafficking allegations bear out

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not dismissed the possibility of taking punitive action against Congressman Matt Gaetz pending the results of an investigation into allegations that he trafficked and had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

“If in fact these allegations are true, of course being removed from the Judiciary Committee is the least that could be done,” Ms Pelosi told reporters at her press conference on Thursday.

The speaker, whose opening remarks on Thursday revolved around Joe Biden’s new $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, initially expressed surprise that the first question she faced from reporters dealt with the investigation into Mr Gaetz.

“It’s an important issue, the integrity of the Congress,” she said, collecting her thoughts. “Not to minimise that, it just surprised me,” she said.

Ms Pelosi did not pre-judge Mr Gaetz’s case, and indicated that lawmakers would need more information about the Justice Department’s investigation into the Florida Republican’s affairs. She deferred follow-up questions to the House Ethics Committee, which oversees probes into members’ conduct.

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took a similar stance on Wednesday in a Fox News interview, saying Mr Gaetz should be removed from the Judiciary Committee if the allegations are borne out.

“Right now Matt Gaetz says it’s not true, and we don’t have any information. So let’s get all the information,” Mr McCarthy said.

Mr Gaetz has denied any claims of misconduct, and said the DOJ investigation into his alleged relationships is part of a complex extortion scheme against his family.

The 38-year-old congressman told Fox News on Tuesday that claims he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and violated federal sex trafficking laws were “verifiably false.”

The allegations were first reported byThe New York Times, which was informed of an ongoing justice department investigation into the claims.

Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who spent decades with the bureau, suggested in a CNN interview on Wednesday that the probe into Mr Gaetz’s conduct must be serious if the dossier made it all the way up to former Attorney General William Barr, as the Times reported it did.

“I can assure you the FBI doesn’t open these cases lightly, and don’t get briefed to the attorney general without some significant momentum behind them,” Mr McCabe said.

“Nobody opens a sex trafficking investigation in which the subject is a sitting member of Congress without having a significant degree of information,” he said.

Mr Gaetz has claimed that a former DOJ official was “threatening to smear my name” while seeking $25m to keep the sex trafficking investigation quiet, and that he and his family assisted with a separate investigation into that official.

The congressman claimed his father had worn a wire to assist the DOJ with its investigation into the former federal official, a claim his father echoed on Tuesday night in his own interview.

Mr Gaetz also denied that he had paid for a 17-year-old girl to travel with him, a move which could violate federal sex trafficking laws. His office has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Independent.

In his statement, the congressman said: “No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation.”

Chris Riotta contributed to this report.

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