Blackmail. An alleged orgy with prostitutes. Accusations of sex with an underage girl. And a convoluted extortion plot involving a likely dead American hostage in Iran.
Even by Florida standards, the Matt Gaetz saga is downright bizarre — and getting weirder by the day.
Before this week, the young Sunshine State congressman and ally of former President Donald Trump was best known, like his mentor, for his ambitious conservatism and promontory coiffure.
But this week, the Republican has faced a daily flurry of scandalous headlines.
Most seriously, he is being investigated by the Justice Department for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old girl, and for paying for her to travel with him across state lines, potentially violating federal sex-trafficking laws.
Gaetz denies the allegations — but not the fact of the investigation.
Then, on Thursday, CNN alleged that he had shown fellow lawmakers nude photos of women he said he’d slept with, including one photographed wearing only a hula hoop.
There have also been claims by two of Gaetz’s enemies that the FBI has photos of him in a “sexual orgy with underage prostitutes.”
It’s all enough to make his penchant for posing on Instagram without pants, as he did in a July posting he captioned, “Covid work!” seem tame by comparison.
This is how the latest Gaetz drama has played out so far:
News of the sex-trafficking investigation, launched in the final months of the last administration, broke Tuesday in The New York Times.
The Pensacola bachelor, 38 — whose engagement to Harvard business school student Ginger Luckey, 26, was announced on Twitter by Fox’s Jeanine Pirro in December — immediately denied he had sex with a minor or transported one across state lines.
“In the strongest possible terms. I deny that I have ever been with someone underage,” he told The Post on Tuesday.
“That is false,” he insisted.
But Gaetz had only raised more eyebrows when he conceded to the Times that some perfectly above-board past “generosity” may be coming back to haunt him.
“I only know that it has to do with women,” he told the paper, when asked what he knew about the investigation.
“I have a suspicion that someone is trying to re-categorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Soon, a new squall of headlines — these involving underage sex workers, an orgy, and a $25 million extortion plot — showed just how much more untoward things could get.
Just hours after the Times story broke, Gaetz did an interview on Fox News with Tucker Carlson.
He was there, ostensibly, to clear things up.
Instead, Gaetz wove a twisty tale that cast himself and his father, Don, a wealthy former Florida politician, as the heroes of a massive blackmail plot.
“What is happening,” he told Carlson of the DOJ leak to the Times, “is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official.”
That ex-official, the villain of his purported extortion plot, is attorney David McGee, a former Florida federal prosecutor, Gaetz alleged.
“On March 16, my father got a text message demanding a meeting,” Gaetz said. “Wherein a person demanded $25 million in exchange for making horrible sex-trafficking allegations against me go away,” he told Carlson.
He and his father reached out to the feds, “and the FBI and the Department of Justice were so concerned about this attempted extortion of a member of Congress that they asked my dad to wear a wire,” Gaetz told Carlson.
The feds must release the resulting audio tape, he told Carlson, claiming it will prove his innocence and reveal “a plot to bleed my family out of money.”
McGee leaked the DOJ sex-traffic investigation to the Times when the extortion plot fell through, Gaetz concluded in the shocking interview.
Then there’s the Iranian hostage angle.
McGee and ex-Air Force intelligence officer Bob Kent didn’t want the money for themselves, necessarily, Gaetz is alleging.
They wanted to use the money to free Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent taken hostage by Iran in 2007, and declared dead by his family last year.
Oh, and about those sex-trafficking allegations?
“Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime,” Gaetz said, a denial that may have done less in the way of clearing his name than he intended.
McGee, meanwhile, has denied Gaetz’s hostage-extortion plot allegations, calling them “a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors,” as he told The Washington Post.
And he’s fighting Gaetz with banner-headline dirt of his own.
Which brings us, finally, to the alleged orgy.
Gaetz has shown the Washington Examiner a string of text messages and other documents he says show the details of McGee and Kent’s supposed extortion attempt — including a reference to the FBI having photos of the congressman in a “sexual orgy with underage prostitutes.”
The document has not been verified, and its redundant reference to a “sexual orgy” is not elaborated on.
On Friday, text messages emerged purporting to link Gaetz to Joel Greenberg, a political ally and Seminole County tax official who’s being prosecuted for underage sex trafficking, the Daily Beast reported.
Greenberg’s indictment says he allegedly made a fake ID for a girl under the age of 17 “to facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts.”
The Daily Beast’s texts appear to show Greenberg helping Gaetz obtain some kind of IDs outside of proper channels in September, though it’s unstated why.
And to cap the week off, his communications director, Florida native Luke Ball, scrubbed mentions of Gaetz from his Twitter biography and tendered his resignation.
“The Office of Congressman Matt Gaetz and Luke Ball have agreed that it would be best to part ways,” a joint statement read. “We thank him for his time in our office, and we wish him the best moving forward.”