Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who is under federal investigation over allegations he paid a minor in exchange for sexual favors, said Saturday the allegations about him are comparable to lawmakers who attach earmarks to bills in order to benefit their constituents or special interests.
Gaetz’s comments attempting to downplay the seriousness of the child sex allegations were made at the Ohio Political Summit in Strongsville, Ohio, where he and other right-wing figures spoke before an audience pledging their loyalty to former President Donald Trump and repeating baseless claims about fraud in the 2020 presidential election. As details of the Gaetz allegations have been published in recent weeks, the lawmaker ― a Trump supporter ― has tried to deflect blame and responsibility much like Trump did while in office.
“I’m being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors,” Gaetz said Saturday afternoon at the Ohio Political Summit. “Yet, Congress has reinstituted a process that legalizes the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that’s the corruption.”
Earmarks are, in fact, legal, and they are used quite often. Contrary to Gaetz’s comparison, sexual misconduct with a minor would not merely be considered a “naughty favor” but a crime punishable by, potentially, decades in prison.
Gaetz’s remarks came just one day after his close associate, a former Florida tax collector named Joel Greenberg, agreed to plead guilty to six federal charges and agreed to cooperate with investigators. Greenberg reportedly faced 33 counts in federal court, and one of the charges to which he confessed was “sex trafficking of a child.” He struck a deal with prosecutors for a reduced number of charges contingent on his cooperation.
Gaetz claims he has “never paid for sex,” but a Friday report from the Daily Beast says Greenberg will identify specific escorts the lawmaker paid for sex, including once after a pro-Trump event, when he wrote off a hotel stay as a campaign expense.
Saturday’s Ohio Summit was another de facto pro-Trump event. Multiple Republicans who have occasionally criticized the former president, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, skipped the event entirely because they knew they would not be welcomed by the crowd of Trump loyalists.
Gaetz is just the latest in a number of people connected to Trump who, like the former president himself, face allegations they were involved in inappropriate conduct toward minors. Other figures facing allegations include deceased and indicted financier Jeffrey Epstein, indicted Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, and former Trump adviser George Nader, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last year for child sex charges.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.