A United States Congressional ethics committee has opened an investigation into allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz had an inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl and violated rules against accepting gifts.
The House of Representatives Ethics Committee said in a statement Friday that it would review public reports that Gaetz “may have committed sexual misconduct” and “use of illicit drugs.”
Gaetz, 38 years old a leading Republican ally former President Donald Trump, has denied the allegations and refused to step down amid an ongoing scandal.
Federal prosecutors in the home state of Gaetz, Florida, have investigated sex trafficking charges against Joel Greenberg, a local tax collector and political ally of Gaetz.
According to reports, prosecutors are investigating whether Gaetz and Greenberg together paid or offered gifts to underage girls for sexual purposes. Greenberg may be close to making a plea deal with authorities in exchange for potential testimony against Gaetz.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz isn’t feeling very comfortable today,” Fritz Scheller, a Greenberg lawyer, told reporters outside a courthouse in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
“I think if Mr. Greenberg accepts a plea deal, he will want to show his sense of remorse, which he has, and his sense of accepting responsibility,” Scheller said.
“He’s in a unique situation.”
Greenberg, 36, has been charged with sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl and using a state database to research information about the girl and other people he had a relationship with of “sugar daddy,” according to an indictment.
The US Department of Justice is investigating Gaetz’s involvement with Greenberg in a cash-for-sex deal, according to an April 1 article in the New York Times.
Separately, Gaetz reportedly made a trip to the Bahamas in late 2018-early 2019 with cannabis entrepreneur and hand surgeon Jason Pirozzolo who allegedly paid for travel and female escorts, according to CBS News.
CNN reported that Gaetz allegedly showed photos of naked women he had slept with to other House members while on the House floor.
On Thursday, it emerged that Gaetz allegedly transferred $ 900 to Greenberg using the Venmo app for payments to three young women, according to a report from the Daily Beast.
Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger in a tweet called for Gaetz’s resignation. “Matt Gaetz must step down,” Kinzinger said in a tweet.
Matt Gaetz must resign. https://t.co/AygfqAxQJX Going through @thedailybeast
– Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) April 9, 2021
Gaetz’s office released a statement that female staff assistants in his office dismissed the allegations as false. “Congressman Gaetz has always been a principled and morally grounded leader,” he said.
The ethics committee said on Friday it was aware of allegations that Gaetz “shared inappropriate images or videos on House floors, misused state identity documents, converted them. campaign funds for personal use and / or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity or illegal gift ”.
Gaetz’s office responded with a statement calling the allegations “patently false.”
Two New York criminal defense attorneys confirmed on Friday that they had been hired by Gaetz, according to Reuters.
“Matt has always been a fighter… and he’s going to fight the unfounded allegations against him. His legal team, led by Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner, will lead the fight against those who try to smear his name with lies, ”said a statement on behalf of the lawyers of Erin Elmore of the Logan Circle Group.
A group called “Friends of Matt Gaetz” broadcast an email fundraising appeal on Friday calling the allegations a “smear campaign.”
“I won’t back up or roll,” Gaetz said in the email.
The ethics committee statement on Friday cautioned that “the mere act of investigating these allegations and publicly disclosing its review, does not in itself indicate that a violation has taken place, nor does it reflect a judgment. from the committee ”.
As a rule, the House Ethics Committee refrains from taking any action to collect evidence, question witnesses, or any other action that might interfere with a simultaneous investigation by law enforcement authorities.
But it is not unusual for the committee to announce the opening of an investigation even as a police investigation continues.
The committee has the power to recommend sanctions, including censorship or expulsion by the full House, for Members who break laws or bring the House into disrepute.