Gaetz Asks Supporters for Money Amid Trafficking "Smear Campaign"

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz
In the heat of controversy, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz isn't one to let publicity — good or bad — go to waste. Now, after the New York Times reported that Gaetz is being investigated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on allegations of sex trafficking a minor, the congressman is using the spotlight to drum up donations.

In a new campaign email, Gaetz calls the Times a "far-left" organization and claims the newspaper published "salacious" lies about him to tarnish his name.

"I am fighting against some of the most powerful institutions in the world that are bankrolled by globalist billionaires. I need every patriot to stand with me. Can I count on your support?" reads the email, which was brought to light by Talking Points Memo.

A red button at the bottom of the email that says "CLICK HERE TO FIGHT BACK AGAINST THE FAKE NEWS" leads to a donation page on Gaetz's campaign website. Gaetz is up for re-election in 2022, although rumors circulated earlier this year that he may retire from Congress to take a job at Newsmax or to run for Florida agriculture commissioner.
The controversy around Gaetz began with last week's Times story, which revealed that DOJ officials are investigating whether the 38-year-old congressman paid a 17-year-old girl for sex or offered her anything of monetary value in exchange for sex, which would violate federal sex-trafficking laws. The allegations involve an alleged relationship from about two years ago.

According to the Times, the probe into Gaetz's actions is part of a larger investigation into his associate, former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last year on multiple charges, including sex trafficking of a minor. According to the Times, the girl involved in the DOJ's Gaetz investigation is said to be the same girl involved in Greenberg's sex-trafficking case. The Times also reports that investigators are looking into allegations that Gaetz recruited women for sex using online sites and paid them using Cash App and Apple Pay.

As the sex-trafficking allegations made headlines, CNN reported that Gaetz allegedly shared nude images of his sex partners with other lawmakers.

Gaetz has vehemently denied the claims of trafficking and sex with a minor. He says he never engaged in illegal activity and asserts that the allegations are part of a $25 million extortion plot. He says he and his father alerted the DOJ to the alleged extortion scheme and cooperated in a DOJ investigation into the plot. He has called on the DOJ to release recordings from its investigation, which he claims will prove his innocence.

While Gaetz attempts to use the scandal to fill his campaign coffers, his allies are beginning to distance themselves from him.

Republican Rep. David Valadao of California said Friday that he would donate the money Gaetz has contributed to his campaign to local organizations that support victims of domestic abuse, according to the Fresno Bee.

Former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill of California, whom Gaetz defended during her own sex scandal, wrote in a recent op-ed for Vanity Fair that if the allegations by CNN are true, Gaetz should step down.

"Matt and I forged an unlikely friendship in Congress, and he was one of the few colleagues who spoke out after a malicious nude-photo leak upended my life," Hill wrote. "But if recent reports are true, he engaged in the very practice he defended me from — and should resign immediately."

Gaetz is scheduled to appear on Friday at an event called the Save America Summit at Trump National Doral, according to an email from Women for America First, a political group that helped organize the pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

"Congressman Matt Gaetz has been a fearless leader in Washington," the email reads. "Few members of Congress have been more willing than Matt to stand up and fight on behalf of President Trump and his America First Agenda. We are honored to have Congressman Gaetz speak at the Save America Summit."