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WASHINGTON — Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said he is under investigation for his sexual conduct after a report Tuesday that the Department of Justice is looking into whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, and he claimed the investigation is related to an effort to extort him.
The New York Times reported that, according to three sources briefed on the issue, an inquiry seeks to uncover whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws by paying for a teen girl to travel with him. Charges have not been filed against the Florida congressman.
The alleged encounter under investigation occurred about two years ago, the Times reported, and a DOJ investigation began near the end of the Trump administration late last year.
Gaetz said in a statement that the allegation is part of an ongoing effort to extort him and his family and said "no part" of it is true. He told Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tuesday evening that March 16 "was when this got going from the extortion standpoint."
“Over the past several weeks my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name. ... I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations," he said.
Gaetz confirmed to Axios that he is under investigation for conduct with women.
"The allegations against me are as searing as they are false," Gaetz told Axios. "I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy."
According to Times sources, the investigation into Gaetz is part of a broader probe into Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector and an acquaintance of Gaetz. Greenberg is facing charges that include child sex trafficking and pleaded not guilty. Gaetz and Greenberg have been pictured together, and Gaetz expressed support for Greenberg as tax collector.
Gaetz told the New York Times that his lawyers were in touch with DOJ investigators.
"I only know that it has to do with women," he told the paper. "I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward."
He told Axios, "I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I've dated. You know, I've paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not."
Gaetz told Axios he is certain none of those women were underage.
...and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals. The planted leak to the FBI tonight was intended to thwart that investigation.
No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets...
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) March 30, 2021
The Times report comes the same day that Axios reported Gaetz is considering leaving Congress and taking a job at the conservative outlet Newsmax. The 38-year-old has been a member of the House since 2016.
"I'm not going to be a lifer in this job," Gaetz told constituents at a town hall on Monday. "I will not be here decades. I think four years to eight years sounds about right."
In late 2017, Gaetz was the only member of Congress to vote against a bill intended to use the Department of Transportation to assist in combating human trafficking, arguing against the expansion of the role of the federal government.
The Department of Justice declined to comment on the matter.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson and David Jackson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DOJ investigates whether Rep. Matt Gaetz had relationship with teen