WASHINGTON – House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of R-California said on Wednesday he plans to speak with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., about “serious” allegations in a report that Gaetz is the subject of a Justice Department investigation into whether he had sex with a minor and whether he paid to have her travel with him.
In an interview with Fox News, McCarthy said he had not heard from the Department of Justice, which The New York Times reported Tuesday night was investigating Gaetz and the allegations.
NBC News confirmed on Wednesday that Gaetz is under investigation for possible sex trafficking in a case that arises from an associate of Gaetz and that there is a separate investigation into Gaetz’s allegations that he is the victim of ‘extortion.
“I just read the story. These are serious implications,” McCarthy said.
When asked if he would take action against Gaetz, like removing him from the Judiciary Committee, as asked by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., McCarthy said, “The DOJ hasn’t told me anything. If a member at my conference is indicted, they’ll be kicked out of a committee. He says that’s not true. And we’ve got a newspaper article that says something else. We’ll find out the base. “
McCarthy said he hoped to speak with Gaetz on Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement Tuesday night on Twitter, Gaetz vehemently denied the allegations reported by The Times. He claimed he and his family were victims of a $ 25 million extortion plot involving a former Justice Department official and said he was cooperating with federal officials.
“None of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are the targets of the ongoing extortion investigation,” Gaetz said. “I demand that the DOJ immediately release the recordings, made under their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.”
The Times report says federal investigators are investigating whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and broke federal sex trafficking laws. Such laws criminalize inducing a person under the age of 18 to travel for sexual purposes in exchange for something of value.
Officials told NBC News that the investigation into Gaetz began last year when one of his associates, Joel Greenberg, a former Florida County tax collector, was charged with charges relating to allegations according to which he had harassed a political opponent, who worked at a local school. , through letters sent to his opponent’s employer and several fictitious accounts on social networks.
Greenberg was charged with criminal harassment and identity fraud related to allegations of a smear campaign in June. The indictment alleges that Greenberg’s bogus identification crimes were intended to aid his efforts to engage in sex trafficking. It was from this investigation, officials told NBC News, that authorities developed a lead that persuaded them to investigate whether Gaetz had been involved in sex trafficking a minor.
Greenberg’s attorney did not return a request for comment.
Gaetz publicly claimed that the letter was from former Florida federal prosecutor David McGee, who told the Daily Beast that the extortion allegation was “completely, totally wrong. “
McGee did not respond to an NBC News request for comment. He reiterated to The Washington Post that he was not linked to any extortion attempt against Gaetz or to any Justice Department investigation into him.
“This is completely untrue. This is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he is under investigation for child sex trafficking,” McGee told The Post on Tuesday.
McGee, who worked for the Department of Justice from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, received outstanding service awards from the Department of Justice and the US Marshals Service, as well as a Special Mention from the Director of the FBI, according to his biography.
The investigation into Gaetz, a rising GOP star and staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William Barr, the Times reported.
Federal prosecutors on Wednesday filed a third alternative indictment against Greenberg, accusing him of conspiring with a Small Business Administration employee and another person to submit bogus loan applications in the event of an economic disaster, bribing him the SBA employee and steal money from the tax collector’s office to buy cryptocurrency.
There was no mention of Gaetz in the indictment, which provided no further information about the sex trafficking charges against Greenberg.
Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.