Hours after we learned that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) had lawyered up amid a widening Department of Justice investigation into sex trafficking (among other matters), the House Ethics Committee announced an investigation of its own on Friday into the various allegations about Gaetz’s conduct that have made headlines over the last days and weeks.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct,” the statement from Committee Chairman Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Ranking Member Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) began. “The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), has begun an investigation and will gather additional information regarding the allegations.”
The announcement of the investigation comes the day after Gaetz’s indicted associate Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, and prosecutors officially expressed a willingness to resolve Greenberg’s criminal case with a plea deal. Greenberg’s defense lawyer Fritz Scheller made waves when answering the questions of the press outside of court. After being peppered with several questions, Scheller said: “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today. Alright?”
A six-minute court hearing Thursday afternoon resulted in the following court entry in Greenberg’s case: “[t]he parties agree this case should resolve by guilty plea, and counsel for Defendant requests a plea date by May 15, 2021.”
“Should a change of plea not occur, the parties agree to a July 2021 trial,” the document added.
It remains to be seen if Greenberg would be signing a cooperation agreement with the government. As of right now, Greenberg has pleaded not guilty to all 33 criminal counts he faces. The charges include: Sex Trafficking of a Child; Driver’s Privacy Protection Act Violations; Unlawful Use of Means of Identification of Another Person; Production of an Identification Document; Aggravated Identity Theft; Production of Identification and False Identification Documents; Wire Fraud; Illegal Monetary Transactions; Stalking; Unlawful Use of Means of Identification of Another Person; Conspiracy to Bribe a Public Official; Submission of a False Claim; Theft of Government Property.
This is not the first time that the House Ethics Committee has investigated Rep. Gaetz. The previous investigation focused on whether he committed witness tampering or obstruction on the eve of Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony against Donald Trump, Cohen’s former boss.
“Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot,” Gaetz tweeted (and deleted) on February 26, 2019.
The three-term congressman is currently under investigation by the DOJ over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to The New York Times’ original report based on sources briefed on the probe.
Gaetz has denied wrongdoing, denied seeking a pardon from Trump, claimed he is the victim of an extortion plot, and blamed Attorney General Merrick Garland for an investigation that began when Bill Barr served in that role. Gaetz said he has never paid for sex and he claimed that the last time he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old was when he was 17. He has also set his Venmo transaction history to private.
Rep. Gaetz has also added high-powered defense attorneys Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner to his legal team. The Logan Circle Group, a PR firm working on Gaetz’s behalf, said in a statement earlier in the day that Gaetz is “going to fight back against the unfounded allegations against him. His legal team, led by Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner, will take the fight to those trying to smear his name with falsehoods.”
Aaron Keller contributed to this report.
[Image via NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images]
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