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Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is under investigation by the Department of Justice for a sexual relationship he allegedly had with a 17-year-old girl, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The investigation was started in the final months of the Trump administration under then-Attorney General William Barr, the Times reported. The agency is looking into whether Gaetz, a close ally of the former president, violated federal sex trafficking laws by paying for the young woman to travel with him outside of Florida.
Gaetz has yet to be charged with a crime.
Earlier Tuesday, Axios reported that Gaetz, who is 38, had told associates he was considering not seeking reelection so that he could pursue a job opportunity with the staunchly conservative network Newsmax. As other outlets picked up on that story, Gaetz chided one for incorrectly identifying him as a congressman from South Florida.
At a February speech he delivered at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., Gaetz declared, “Many days I’m a marked man in Congress, a wanted man by the deep state, but every day I’m a Florida man.”
Gaetz told the Times that while his lawyers have been in contact with the Justice Department, he had been told he is not the target of an investigation.
“I only know that it has to do with women,” Gaetz told the paper. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
In a telephone interview Tuesday evening with Axios reporter Johnathan Swan, Gaetz clarified that he was innocent.
"The allegations against me are as searing as they are false," Gaetz said. "I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy."
"I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I've dated," Gaetz added. "You know, I've paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not."
As the story continued to gain traction Tuesday night, Gaetz tweeted that he and his family have been the target of an extortion plot under investigation by the FBI and that the story of his relationship with a minor was intended to "thwart that investigation."
Gaetz then appeared on Tucker Carlson's Fox News program to repeat his denials that the story in the Times was true.
"It is a horrible allegation and it is a lie," Gaetz said. "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."
Yet Carlson maintained a measure of skepticism about Gaetz's claims that the allegations against him were part of an elaborate extortion plot.
"If you just saw our Matt Gaetz interview... that was one of the weirdest interviews I've ever conducted," Carlson said, adding, "I don't think that clarified much."
The fast-moving developments left more questions than answers about one of the most high-profile Republican politicians in the country. Not lost in the fray is the fact that, in December, Gaetz announced his engagement to 26-year-old Ginger Luckey.
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