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It’s always the ones you most suspect.
So far, Gaetzgate is the most unsurprising scandal since it came out that Matt’s hero Donald Trump was paying off porn stars to shut up about sleeping with him.
Elements of Gaetz’s story have been out there for a while, the “sleeping with staff for points” part was reported in January by Solomon Gustavo in Orlando Weekly and years before that by Marc Caputo but the Times was able to put the whole thing together. And when the whole thing came together, it sounded a lot like Qanon with men trafficking girls except that in the real-life version it always seems to be Republicans allegedly committing these crimes.
Of course, Gaetz is far from the first fervent Trump supporter in Congress to have his own legal or ethical ethical issues. The first House member to back Trump, Chris Collins, was later charged with insider trading, and huge Trump booster Duncan Hunter used campaign money for bunny plane tickets—among other things. Both of them did their crimes in time to eventually get pardoned by Trump; Gaetz can’t even get a word of support from him so far.
But Gaetz has built an enormous profile for himself, in his short time in office, because he spends most of his time on rightwing TV—from where he’s been conspicuously absent since this scandal broke, save for one incredibly strange, sad and sweaty appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show. On that show, he tried to drag the host into his scandal and talked up a storm about how he was supposedly being blackmailed by a former DOJ attorney in an interview that was so addled even the Fox host called it “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
Since then, Fox News has pretty much disappeared the previously rising party star pretty boy who allegedly like to pop Molly (no relation) with underage party girls, with the propaganda network going a full 30 hours at one point without so much as a mention of him, even as CNN and MSNBC were all over the scandal, with CNN reporting Thursday that Gaetz was showing videos and photos of naked women and bragging about his exploits on the floor of Congress and The New York Times reporting that “The Justice Department inquiry is also examining whether Mr. Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether she received anything of material value, according to four people familiar with the investigation”—and all that’s not to mention the photo of the condoms in a trashcan outside his office that a colleague of his shared with The Daily Beast.
There’s also the inconvenient truth that right after getting to Congress in 2017, Gaetz was the only, yes, the ONLY lawmaker to vote against a bill giving more resources to the federal government to fight, yes, you guessed it, the very thing he may be charged with now, human trafficking.
The congressman might seem more like a frat boy who appears to have crossed moral and perhaps legal lines—but that doesn’t mean this is any sort of joke. A grown man and a member of Congress reportedly paying teenagers under the age of consent for sex is deadly serious, which perhaps is why Gaetz released a statement as more allegations broke Thursday. The statement used his full name again and again, and flatly denied the charges:
“Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex. Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life,” a reference to his fiancée Ginger Lucky. If Ginger is smart, she’s halfway to Istanbul by now. Also, Matt Gaetz’s communications director resigned on Friday for some reason.
Gaetz may be issuing blanket denials but the reports of bad behavior and worse keep pouring in, a lot of them tied to his friend Joel Greenberg, the local tax collector in Florida now charged with 33 counts ranging from wire fraud to sex trafficking and who allegedly used his position to stalk women he was paying on Seeking Arrangements, a “sugar daddy” website. Gaetz, incidentally, has stressed that he’s always taken good care of women he’s been involved with.
In the meantime, the on-the-record silence from Republicans has been deafening, even as many have been dumping on their unpopular, showboating young colleague on background. On CNN Friday morning, former Beast editor John Avlon pointed out that “It doesn’t exactly seem like his Republican colleagues are rallying to his defense.” Dana Bash replied that, “If you could see my text messages from some of his current and former colleagues, I actually can’t repeat what some of them say on morning television.” And earlier in the week Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News, “If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him. Those are serious implications.”
But perhaps the worst sign for Gaetz is that Trump and his large adult fail son have replied to the allegations with silence, on the record and on background. “The ex-president has remained on the sidelines, waiting to see what comes out next. So has his son, Don Jr., who is an influential Gaetz ally, too. He has tweeted numerous times since Tuesday evening, but offered no defense of the congressman.”
In fact, the only people speaking up to defend Gaetz are Marjorie Taylor Greene, who got to Congress by promoting Qanon conspiracy theories accusing Democrats of abusing children and who said what’s happening to her friend now was all a “witch hunt” and Jim Jordan, who historically has been pretty good at ignoring other people’s sex crimes.