According to a report from the Daily Beast, the first defense that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) offered when accused of sex trafficking is already falling apart as investigators look into his claims.
As the Beast's Roger Sollenberger reports, the embattled Florida Republican started off his defense on Fox News, telling host Tucker Carlson, "It is a horrible allegation, and it is a lie," before adding, "The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false. People can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case."
However, according to Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Gaet'z's travel records offer him no help with his defense.
"The spending surrounding the Gaetz campaign simply doesn't say what he wants it to say," Libowitz explained before adding, "One, the reports don't offer specific information; and two, it's not clear whether he's even saying that his campaign filings will exonerate him. If he's paying out of pocket, we won't know the answers without a subpoena."
In fact, as Sollenberger reports, an examination of the Florida Republican's travel records raise even more questions -- particularly about his relationship with a friend already under investigation by authorities.
"As Gaetz knows, his campaign filings don't have any sort of information that would prove he never participated in a sex ring or paid for the travel of an underage minor. What his filings do show, though, is that Gaetz had a close relationship with Joel Greenberg—the Seminole County tax collector indicted on sex trafficking charges." the report states before noting a controversial visit the two made to a state office on a weekend, reportedly to get a new drivers license or ID for Gaetz.
Noting that the GOP lawmaker is not a resident of Seminole County, the report adds, "Gaetz isn't a Seminole County resident. The first information on the county's drivers license website says the office 'will process only 'Seminole County Residents' for ALL Driver License or ID Card services. No exceptions will be made.' The site tells applicants that if they can't produce proof of residency, 'a ticket for driver license or ID card services will NOT be serviced.'"
According to Libowitz, "It makes sense if he had to pick up the ID. But I don't know why a sitting congressman wouldn't be able to do that on his own, in his own county, and why he'd have to get a friend to do it for him."
He added about Gaetz's travel filings, "You can only use campaign funds for efforts that go towards an election. So under the theory that he went to Orlando to get a license unlawfully, he would have a tough case to make—that it's appropriate to use your campaign to get around state law. And that would be a stretch."
Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at government watchdog the Campaign Legal Center, concurred, telling the Beast, "This is something the FEC should catch. It's tough to tell on the face who was traveling and for what purpose. So it can be really hard just from a public report to tell the difference between a legit expense and personal use of funds."
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