(Headline USA) The Democrat-led House Ethics Committee announced an investigation Friday into Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz over allegations that he was involved in the trafficking of underage girls.
Gaetz has fired back, claiming his innocence and saying he is the target of a Democratic smear campaign.
“I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere,” Gaetz said in response to the allegations. “The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life to wild, and I mean wild, conspiracy theories. I won’t be intimidated by a lying media, and I won’t be extorted by former DOJ officials and the crooks he is working with. The truth will prevail.”
Federal agents have, in recent months, been examining Gaetz’s connections to several other influential Florida political figures.
Gaetz, who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, has retained two prominent New York attorneys while facing a Justice Department investigation into sex trafficking allegations involving underage girls.
The scrutiny includes an examination of a trip that Gaetz took to the Bahamas with a group of women, and federal agents are looking into whether they were paid or received gifts to have sex with the men, the person said. CBS News first reported details of the trip.
The FBI has also started questioning people about that trip and others that Gaetz and his associates took with women, and agents are examining whether any of the women were later hired into government positions as political favors, the person said.
Investigators have been scrutinizing financial records, contact witnesses, former staff members and others who they believe may have been aware of the activities, according to the person.
The person could not publicly discuss details of the ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Gaetz has not been charged with a crime.
“I’m built for the battle and I’m not going anywhere,” Gaetz said. “The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life to wild — and I mean wild — conspiracy theories.”
Prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz or his associate Joel Greenberg paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they could not discuss details publicly. Greenberg entered a not guilty plea Friday through his attorney to a variety of charges ranging from child sex trafficking to fraud. A judge has set a May 15 deadline for Greenberg to reach a plea deal.
Unfolding alongside a federal criminal investigation, the ethics probe ensures Gaetz will have to confront simultaneous inquiries even as he plans to remain in Congress.
The Ethics Committee conducts its work in secret and usually issues a final report on what it finds, often many months later. Punishment for ethics violations is up to the House and can include censure, fines and even expulsion from Congress.
Separately Friday, a spokesperson for Gaetz said attorneys Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner will lead his legal team.
“Matt has always been a fighter. A fighter for his constituents, a fighter for the country, and a fighter for the Constitution. He’s going to fight back against the unfounded allegations against him,” the statement said, adding that the lawyers “will take the fight to those trying to smear his name with falsehoods.”
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.