A prominent Republican ally of Donald Trump is under investigation for “sexual conduct with women,” it emerged Tuesday.
Matt Gaetz, a congressman from Florida, confirmed he was under investigation by the Department of Justice, but denied ever having had a relationship with underage girls.
It came after The New York Times reported that Mr Gaetz was under investigation into allegations he had sex with a 17-year-old girl, whom he paid to travel with him. .
Federal investigators were examining whether the 38-year-old had broken federal sex trafficking laws, the newspaper reported.
Mr. Gaetz is one of Mr. Trump’s most prominent supporters in Washington and a regular face in the conservative media. He is also considered a potential future presidential candidate.
The Justice Department’s investigation was said to have been opened in the closing months of the Trump administration, when the department was headed by former Attorney General Bill Barr.
Several senior officials have been made aware of the investigation due to Mr. Gatez’s public profile, according to the New York Times.
Mr Gaetz said his lawyers were told he was under investigation but was not the target of the investigation.
He denied ever having had a relationship with underage girls and said the allegations against him were “as hot as they were false.”
According to the New York Times, the investigation into Mr. Gaetz was part of a larger federal investigation into one of the congressman’s friends – Joel Greenberg, another Florida politician.
Mr. Greenberg was charged with various charges last summer, including sex trafficking of a minor. He has denied the charges and is due to stand trial in June.
Mr. Gaetz has not been charged with any crime. The congressman claimed in interviews with U.S. news outlets that the allegations were part of an extortion plot by a former Justice Department official.
“I suspect someone is trying to re-categorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” Gaetz told The New York Times.
He called the allegation that he had traveled with a 17-year-old girl “presumably false”.
Mr Gaetz said his family had cooperated with the FBI and that he and his father wore a recording device at the office’s request “to catch these criminals.”
“Over the past few weeks, my family and I have been the victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $ 25 million while threatening to smear my name,” he said in a statement.