Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz premiered a podcast on Thursday on which he spent more than 15 minutes defending himself against allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, poking holes in news stories, and painting a picture of a conspiracy to take him down while at the same time avoiding key details from reports about the investigation.
“Embattled congressman Matt Gaetz,” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer’s voice greets listeners in the introduction montage for the show, called Firebrand.
The podcast has an on-camera element, with Gaetz, who before allegations against him became public was rumored to be considering not running for reelection in order to join Newsmax, sitting in a newsroom-style studio, speaking directly to the camera.
“March 31, April Fool’s eve, I stood in the Fort Walton Beach airport as my chief of staff delivered the news: The New York Times would soon be reporting that I was being investigated for child sex trafficking,” Gaetz said.
(That report, alleging the Justice Department was investigating whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old met on a hookup website and paid her to travel with him, was published a day earlier on March 30.)
The report is “verifiably false, printed with malice,” Gaetz said and suggested that the Justice Department leaked the story to the New York Times.
"I wasn't surprised. This wasn't the first time I was learning of false allegations against me,” Gaetz said.
The Washington Examiner first reported, and published in full, documents from Gaetz detailing a bizarre scheme from Bob Kent, a former Air Force intelligence officer, seeking a $25 million loan from Gaetz’s wealthy father Don Gaetz to fund an operation to rescue ex-FBI agent-turned-spy Robert Levinson (who the United States has concluded is dead) from Iran.
Don Gaetz, a former state Senate president, forwarded a text message to his son that he received on March 16 from Kent proposing “a plan that can make [Matt Gaetz’s] future legal and political problems go away.” In a March 17 meeting, Kent and convicted felon Stephen M. Alford presented Don Gaetz with a three-paged typed document titled "Project Homecoming" detailing the plan. The document alleged that the FBI was aware of photos of Gaetz in a "sexual orgy with underage prostitutes” and promised to "strongly advocate that President Biden issue a Presidential Pardon, or instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving Congressman Gaetz" upon Levinson’s return.
Kent later confirmed the authenticity of the documents and the plan on CNN.
“You can see the sheepish look of a busted man all over the face of Bob Kent,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz poked other holes in the allegations against him.
He reiterated that Seeking Arrangement, the website that reports say is how Gaetz met the underage woman, confirmed — “By the grace of God, which I undoubtedly need,” Gaetz said — that he never had an account on the website.
"There's nothing wrong with meeting people online, just not my thing. I've always been more of an IRL kind of guy,” Gaetz said.
But Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector and associate of Gaetz who pleaded guilty to six federal charges, including sex trafficking of a child, was not addressed in the podcast. Prosecutors said that Greenberg met the girl online where she was posing as an adult, paid her, and invited her to hotels where Greenberg and others would have sex with her — and prosecutors are investigating whether that includes Gaetz. Greenberg is cooperating with prosecutors.
The woman in question reportedly joined Gaetz and other young women on a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas, Politico reported, and federal agents reportedly seized Gaetz's phone this past winter — which would be before Kent made the overture to his father in March.
The Daily Beast reported May 2018 Venmo transactions between Gaetz and Greenberg and between Greenberg and a young woman aged 18. In the $900 transaction memo to Greenberg, Gaetz wrote “hit up [nickname],” referring to a young woman. The next morning, Greenberg, over the course of eight minutes, sent three Venmo transactions to three different women for “tuition,” “school,” and “school,” that totaled $900.
On his podcast, Gaetz also called attention to a Project Veritas sting with undercover video of a CNN technical director talking about running negative stories about Gaetz "to keep hurting him." And he played a video from a press conference in which a former staff member said two FBI agents visited his house and asserted he “had previous knowledge of congressman Gaetz’s involvement in illegal activities,” which he denied.
Gaetz has not been charged with any crime, and no woman has publicly accused him of wrongdoing.
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Original Author: Emily Brooks