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The Pensacola guide to Matt Gaetz: Yahoo News Explains

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Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has found himself in the national spotlight, fighting serious allegations on multiple fronts — including an ethics probe within the House of Representatives and a DOJ investigation into the alleged sex trafficking of a minor. As new developments come to light, Andy Marlette, a political cartoonist and columnist for the Pensacola News Journal, explains the local history of Gaetz’s family and provides context for his rise to power.

Video Transcript

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ANDY MARLETTE: I'm Andy Marlette and I am a political cartoonist here in the Florida panhandle. And it seems like the last two weeks have been a year's worth of news on Matt Gaetz.

TUCKER CARLSON: Matt Gaetz is under federal investigation for playing some role in sex trafficking.

- We are told that it stretches beyond Florida, and that multiple witnesses have already been interviewed.

SHEPARD SMITH: And now, his communications director has resigned.

BRET BAIER: Gaetz denied the original allegations up front, but this story keeps evolving.

- Late this afternoon, we learned a House panel has opened an ethics probe on the sex trafficking allegation.

- "The Daily Beast" now reporting that Gaetz sent two late night Venmo transactions in May, 2018, for $900 to his friend, Joel Greenberg.

- The Justice Department investigating whether Gaetz and his associate Joel Greenberg paid women who were allegedly recruited online for sex and travel.

ANDY MARLETTE: Everyone asks how Matt Gaetz happens. And-- and I think if you were from any other part of Florida, it couldn't have necessarily happened. Pensacola, Florida, for folks not familiar, we're not down near Disney World. We're way up here on the border of Alabama. But locally, we try to put the stories about his family, his father, and their important roles that they play in local politics into context.

You know, Don Gaetz, Matt's dad, would be unknown to the rest of the world, probably. But in Florida, he was very powerful as the president of the State Senate. And even when he got out of the legislature, he remains-- especially in Northwest Florida, up here in the panhandle-- a very powerful figure.

His father still sits on major public boards. He's a member of the Florida Ethics Commission, which is supposed to [CHUCKLES] preserve ethics at the highest level of our state government. And he's, maybe even more notably, chair of the Triumph Gulf Coast Board, which is a board that he set up when he was in the legislature.

And what this board does, they handle all the penalties, the money that came in from the BP oil spill. In an area like ours in Florida, that makes him a very, very powerful figure both because, you know, people want to kiss up to him in hopes of getting the money, but also a lot of local elected officials and community members are afraid to make them mad, and thereby afraid to publicly question or criticize his son out of fear that important money for important local projects could be withheld from them.

That becomes real power, real, significant power that's tough for average citizens to even wrap their mind around. And I think what's emerging is this kind of demented, twisted little world that Floridians have been accustomed to, and Gaetz seems to be the nuclear center of it all.

I mean, he was part of our governor's transition team. He was handpicking appointments for major jobs, responsible for appointing people to airport boards in Orlando, even though he's-- we're 400 miles from Orlando up here. Matt grew up in the house that "The Truman Show" was filmed in--

MATT GAETZ: In the mid '90s, one day some producer just shows up in a golf cart and tells my mother that they want to make a movie in this house starring Jim Carrey.

ANDY MARLETTE: --which is such a reminder that-- that Florida's reality is-- is so much weirder than-- than fiction can be. Now, here's this kid who grew up in "The Truman Show" house who's all of a sudden the star of this own demented "Truman Show." We're binge watching the episodes, and it feels-- it feels like we're coming up on the final episode of the season, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

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