Rep. Matt Gaetz's name has been in the headlines a lot this week — not only in connection with an Axios report that he is considering leaving Congress to work as a pundit at Fox News competitor Newsmax TV, but also, in connection with two federal criminal investigations. And an article written by reporters Matt Dixon and Betsy Woodruff Swan and published by Politico this week explains why former U.S. Attorney General William Barr avoided being seen in public with Gaetz at one point in 2020.
Gaetz is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of a broad sex trafficking probe, and one of the things being examined in that probe is allegations that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and paid her to travel with him across state lines — which the congressman has vehemently denied. Gaetz has also claimed the FBI is investigating a related extortion plot that Gaetz and his father, former Florida State Senate President Don Gaetz, allege was organized by former federal prosecutor David McGee.
The Politico report points out that the investigation of Gaetz's conduct began under the Trump administration, undercutting allegations that it's driven merely by partisan bias.
In 2020, the Politico reporters add, "Then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the Gaetz probe and did not take issue with it, a source familiar with the matter told Politico. Barr and the Office of the Attorney General received multiple briefings on the Gaetz probe, beginning in the summer of 2020, a second person familiar with the probe said. They encouraged Florida prosecutors to move as quickly as they needed to and take whatever steps were appropriate."
According to Dixon and Swan, Barr even avoided attending a GOP event because of Rep. Gaetz's presence.
"The briefings were consistent with Barr's memo requiring notification to department leadership on probes of candidates," Dixon and Swan explain. "The briefing was important because — among other reasons — Barr didn't want to accidentally appear anywhere with Gaetz, the person said. At one point, Barr was scheduled for a meet-and-greet with Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. But DOJ canceled his appearance at the event when they saw that Gaetz, a member of that committee, had RSVP'd for it."
Don Gaetz discussed the other federal investigation — the one involving the alleged extortion plot — with Politico. The older Gaetz told the publication, "The FBI asked me to try and get that information for Matt and an indication we would transfer money to Mr. David McGee."
However, Dixon and Swan note that that the older Gaetz did not specify "what information he was referring to." And Don Gaetz said that he was cooperating with the FBI during that investigation.
Politico quotes the older Gaetz as saying, "I said to the FBI, 'I'm willing to wear a wire and be cooperative,' but I was asked to say things that are not true to draw out an admission. I wanted there to be an understanding committed in writing that I'm working for the FBI and at their request, not operating on my own."
McGee, in an interview with the Daily Beast, said that the allegation that he was behind an extortion plot involving the Gaetz family is "completely, totally false."