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Sex Trafficking Allegations Against Matt Gaetz, Explained

Did Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) have sex with a 17-year-old girl and engage in sex trafficking?

This issue has been at the heart of a federal investigation that has been ongoing for nearly two years, but the investigation could end without any charges. The Washington Post reports that prosecutors have recommended against charging Gaetz, citing the reliability of two witnesses, though a final decision has yet to be made.

Gaetz says he is innocent and has categorically denied having sex with a minor or ever having paid for sex. The Post reported in September that Gaetz had asked incumbent President Donald Trump for a pardon, suggesting the incendiary Republican feared he was in grave legal danger.

Here’s what happens.

Who is Gaetz: He is a close ally of Trump and one of the most conservative flamethrowers in Congress. He was elected in 2016 to his seat in Florida’s Western Panhandle area, one of the most Republican congressional districts in the country, and he’s talked a lot about Trump. On the eve of the Jan. 6 anniversary, he appeared with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to spout unproven conspiracy theories about the attack. He’s been a frequent guest on Fox News, and he’s aligned himself in the past with the Proud Boys and Holocaust deniers. He was also frequently investigated for violating House ethics rules. He recently made headlines for calling abortion rights protesters “ugly”.

In 2017, he was the only member of Congress to vote against legislation strengthening the government’s investigative powers on human trafficking, saying he was sent to Congress to reduce the government’s reach.

In 2020 he announced he had a 19-year-old Cuban son, someone he appears to have adopted through an ex-girlfriend, although he left many details regarding that relationship. unclear.

What potential crimes is he being investigated for: Whether Gaetz paid for sex, had sex with a 17-year-old, and whether he paid for women to cross state lines to have sex, which would violate sex trafficking.

What he said : He was vocal enough to deny paying for sex or having sex with a minor as an adult. “I suspect someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to my ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” he said.

“The last time I had sex with a seventeen-year-old I was seventeen,” he said. He also said, somewhat opaquely, that it stemmed from a real extortion plot involving his father, a wealthy former Florida politician.

How the investigation began: It stems from a federal investigation into a friend of Gaetz, a wealthy Florida politician named Joel Greenberg who is now a convicted sex trafficker. Investigators began looking into whether Greenberg had fabricated a sexual misconduct allegation to smear his opponent during a county tax collector race, and the investigation expanded into sex trafficking and Gaetz, as reported by Matt Zapotosky and Michael Scherer of The Washington Post.

Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector from Seminole County, Florida, pleaded guilty May 17 to sex trafficking a minor and a host of other crimes. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP and Jabin Botsford/Reuters)

What we know: A number of Gaetz associates appeared to have been caught up in this investigation and even turned against him. Greenberg, Gaetz’s Florida friend, pleaded guilty to charges of sex trafficking a minor (among other crimes) and he has been fully cooperating with investigators, potentially about Gaetz, since 2020.

“I’m sure Matt Gaetz isn’t feeling very comfortable today, okay?” Greenberg’s attorney said last year after his client was charged. Gaetz bragged to other politicians about having sex with women he met through Greenberg, including showing them photos of nude or topless women.

Prosecutors convened a federal grand jury to investigate Gaetz and called his ex-girlfriend to testify, potentially about his behavior with women and any trips he took with women while paying for sex, reports Zapotosky of the Post.

Another person in Gaetz’s orbit, Joseph Ellicott, pleaded guilty earlier this year to drug and fraud charges as part of a plea deal with the government. Through his attorney, Ellicott said he saw Gaetz attend parties that involved “a lot” of sex and drug use.

The evidence against Gaetz: Investigators have not spoken openly about their findings, but information has leaked out in news reports over the past year and a half.

· The Post reported that Gaetz used websites to set up dates with women in exchange for dinner or hotel stays. These sites are legal, unless they stray into the territory of prostitution, where money is explicitly exchanged for sex.

The Daily Beast reported that the money trail suggests Gaetz paid to have sex with women. In 2018, his friend Greenberg made Venmo payments to three young women totaling $900, describing the money on the app as “Tuition” or “School.” Gaetz sent Greenberg $900 the previous night on Venmo, writing in one transaction “hit up ___”, using a nickname for the 17-year-old. (Greenberg says they apparently cut off all contact with her until she was 18.) At least one of those payments was confirmed by the federal investigation.

Greenberg also directly accused Gaetz of paying to have sex with women, saying he witnessed the acts firsthand. He wrote this in a bizarre confession letter that he apparently hoped Trump would read to forgive him. “I saw the acts happen first hand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the congressman,” he wrote.

What happened now: Prosecutors told senior Justice Department officials they believed a conviction was unlikely, in part because they believed a jury would not accept the testimony of two key witnesses: the 17-year-old years in question and Gaetz’s business ally. , Greenberg. Greenberg has a criminal record beyond that case, and he once falsely accused a schoolteacher of sex with a minor. It’s unclear why the 17-year-old’s account would be challenged by a jury.

What could happen to Gaetz: It seems unlikely that Gaetz will be charged with a crime. While a final decision has yet to be made, reports Devlin Barrett of the Post, people familiar with the matter say senior Justice Department officials generally follow the advice of prosecutors.

The Republican Party has always supported him. “Matt Gaetz says he’s innocent,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said last spring. This summer, Gaetz easily brushed off a primary challenger who tried to make the congressman’s legal troubles a campaign issue.

This has been updated with the latest.

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