After a report from the New York Times about an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz's potentially illegal sexual relationship with a girl who was 17 years old broke on Tuesday, the story began evolving and developing at an exceptionally rapid pace.
His appearance on Fox News Wednesday night only further muddled the narrative.
But on Thursday, several new news reports emerged, offering more corroboration, context, and details to further fill in the gaps. While the truth of the matter and the full story are far from clear, a partial image of the events seems to be coming into focus.
Here are seven new details in the story that help make sense of it all:
1. The Washington Post confirmed two separate Justice Department investigations
As we already knew, Gaetz has been under investigation for months under suspicion of a sex crime. But after this news broke, he revealed the existence of another federal investigation — an investigation of an attempt to "extort" him for $25 million over the sex crime allegation.
The Post confirmed the claim that two men approached the Florida Republican's father, Don Gaetz, with a request for money and an offer to help Matt Gaetz out of legal peril.
A separate report from the conservative news outlet the Washington Examiner, which appeared to get documents straight from Gaetz himself or his family, included an email from David Goldberg, an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida. It appeared to confirm that Don Gaetz is working with the FBI "to determine if a federal crime has been committed."
2. The request for $25 million relates to an Iranian prisoner
The Post reported that the request for money from the Gaetz family was driven by a need to fund an operation to save Robert Levinson, a man who was imprisoned in Iran and who the U.S. government reportedly believes is dead. Former Air Force intelligence officer Bob Kent has reportedly been a driving force behind the rescue effort.
Interestingly, despite Gaetz's claim that he is being "extorted," the Examiner report describes the documents requesting the $25 million as a request for a "loan." And the Post found that $25 million is the exact amount the U.S. government has offered as a reward for information on Levinson. It's possible, then, that $25 million requested from Gaetz would be reimbursed if the operation were successful and the reward was paid out.
However, many of the details surrounding this part of the plot remain obscure.
3. The incentive in the so-called "extortion" plot is highly dubious
According to the document obtained by the Examiner, the plan was for Gaetz to get a presidential pardon if the rescue plan were successful:
In exchange for the funds being arranged, and upon the release of Mr. Levinson, the team that delivers Mr. Levinson to the President of The United States shall strongly advocate that President Biden issue a Presidential Pardon, or instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving Congressman Gaetz.
This makes little sense. There's no reason to believe Biden would pardon Gaetz or shut down an investigation into an unrelated matter even if he were somehow single-handedly responsible for rescuing an Iranian prisoner. It's hard to see why anyone would think this is even a plausible form of enticement for the Gaetz family.
The Examiner report also says that documents suggest the president was aware of this plan, which seems even less plausible.
4. The document obtained by the Examiner suggests a wider probe of Gaetz than has been reported
Though the reports of the DOJ investigation into Gaetz have focused on the sex crime, the document reportedly given to the Gaetz family proposing the funding of the rescue operation suggests the Republican lawmaker is facing scrutiny for a wider range of conduct. In addition to the suspicion of sex trafficking, Gaetz is also supposedly being investigated for "political corruption, public integrity, and other criminal allegations."
Of course, there's no way to verify the document or its claims at this point. But if it's genuine — and it seems like it was provided by the Gaetz family to the outlet — it's worth noting that even in Rep. Gaetz's version of events, the men who approached his father already knew about the sex crimes allegation before they became public.
5. The document also indicated the sex crime investigation into Gaetz is well-developed
Again, it's hard to say whether the documents' claims are at all reliable, but it asserts that the FBI knows there are pictures of Gaetz and another "Elected Official" in a "sexual orgy with underage prostitutes." This would be a bizarre claim to make while trying to falsely extort someone — if they knew such pictures didn't exist, they'd have no reason to go along with the scheme. But so far, what we can see of this plot doesn't point to a sophisticated effort. The document is poorly edited and, as argued above, makes an implausible offer of a presidential pardon.
Gaetz had referred to the claim about pictures with underage prostitutes on Fox News Tuesday night, baffling many observers.
The document also said that there is a grand jury investigation into the matter, that one underage girl testified that Gaetz paid her for sex, and that other people facing charges have "agreed to testify against Congressman Gaetz."
6. It's not clear if there's actually evidence of an extortion scheme
The reports do somewhat bolster Gaetz's allegation that he's facing an extortion scheme. But scrutinizing the documents and claims published by the Examiner, it's actually not clear if all the components of extortion fit the facts of the case.
While the report does find Gaetz's wealthy family was approached with the extreme request for a "$25 million loan," it's not clear there's any implied retaliatory threat if the loan is not given. Rather, it presents the plot as an "opportunity" for Gaetz with the presidential pardon as the pay-off. Of course, criminals often cloak threats in other language, so this word choice isn't exonerating. But the problem with the extortion theory is it's not clear David McGee — the lawyer for the Levinson family who Gaetz claimed was trying to extort him — had any power over the investigation that threatens Gaetz. If really all he was doing was presenting a plan to Gaetz that he thought would be mutually beneficial, it's not clear there's any extortion-type crime involved.
In comments to the Post, McGee confirmed he talked to Don Gaetz, but said only: "It is a pleasant conversation of a dad concerned about his son, and the trouble his son was in." He denied to the Daily Beast that there was any extortion scheme, but he stopped answering the outlet's calls after the Examiner published the documents.
So what is Gaetz up to? One possibility was suggested by a notable moment in his Fox News interview with Tucker Carlson. When Carlson asked Gaetz when he first became aware of the sex crimes investigation into him, he refused to answer the question. The New York Times reported that the investigation began sometime around the end of the summer in 2020. But Gaetz instead said he wanted to focus on the middle of March 2021, when he first became aware of the so-called extortion scheme. He also tried to suggest that the FBI is trying to cook up false charges against him. And yet, if Gaetz really thought the FBI was trying to frame him for a crime, why would he go to the FBI when he thought he was being extorted?
Gaetz may be trying to conflate the bizarre request from McGee, which he claims is extortion, with the investigation into his potential sex crime, to muddle the waters and protect his reputation. But since the highest levels of the Trump Justice Department were aware of the investigation into Gaetz, it's hard to believe it was an entirely fabricated charge. It seems more plausible that it's a serious investigation (though its unclear if charges will result) that happened to spur a bizarre (and potentially though not clearly criminal) request from a separate party.
Gaetz seems to be taking a page from Trump's playbook and litigating his defense in the media, rather than sticking with the advice most lawyers would give: keep your mouth shut and only speak when necessary. That means he wants to wage a propaganda war against any potential charge coming. So if he can make the public think he's being targeted as part of an extortion plot, all the better.
7. Gaetz claimed he's looking into job opportunities from conservative outlets — but two denied any interest
"There is not a single conservative television station I haven't had a passing conversation with about life after Congress," Gaetz told the Daily Beast. "I have neither received nor solicited offers from any of them. But yes, I've talked to either executives, producers or hosts at Newsmax, OAN, Fox, Fox Business, Real America's Voice and probably others I'm forgetting in this moment as I focus intently on refuting false accusations against me."
But a Fox official told the Beast: "No one with any level of authority has had conversations with Matt Gaetz for any of our platforms and we have no interest in hiring him."
And OAN CEO Robert Herring said: "Right now, I'm not really hiring anybody for talk shows. I think he is a great congressman..."
Update: The story has been corrected to clarify that it was Kent that the Examiner said was pushing the rescue effort.