- Rep. Matt Gaetz said a DOJ investigation into whether he broke sex-trafficking laws is based on "lies" and "false" allegations.
- Gaetz said the allegations are part of a weeks-long attempt to extort his family for $25 million.
- But the DOJ launched its investigation late last summer, well before Gaetz said his family was first contacted in the alleged extortion scheme.
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Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz took to Twitter and the conservative media airwaves on Tuesday to push back on news that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was investigating whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and broke federal sex-trafficking laws.
On Twitter, Gaetz said the investigation was based on "lies" being pushed against him by a former DOJ official in an effort to extort his family. But the lawmaker's statements about the alleged extortion scheme don't line up with the timeline of the DOJ's probe.
"Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name," Gaetz tweeted. "We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter ... and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI's direction to catch these criminals."
"No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets ... of the ongoing extortion investigation," he continued. "I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicates their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations."
During an appearance on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight," Gaetz added another crucial data point to the timeline: he said that someone involved in the alleged extortion scheme texted his father on March 16 "demanding a meeting wherein a person demanded $25 million in exchange for making horrible sex trafficking allegations against me go away."
However, Katie Benner, one of the New York Times reporters who broke the story about the DOJ's sex-trafficking probe, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Tuesday that the investigation into Gaetz was launched late last summer and had been underway for more than six months by the time Gaetz said his father was contacted.
As one DOJ veteran told Insider, the timeline doesn't necessarily mean Gaetz's claims of an extortion scheme are untrue, but it does indicate the department's probe was not launched as a result of any such scheme.
"One can be guilty of a crime and still be shaken down to, theoretically, make the investigation go away," Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the DOJ, said.
Gaetz has not been charged with any crime, and he called the allegations being investigated "horrible" and "verifiably false."
On Carlson's show, Gaetz also claimed the former DOJ employee who tried to extort him was David McGee, who is now an attorney at Beggs & Lane, a law firm based in Pensacola. McGee's biography on the firm's website says he spent six years as first assistant at a US attorney's office and seven years as the lead attorney for the DOJ's Organized Crime Task Force.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, McGee called Gaetz's allegation "completely, totally false" and "a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that Matt Gaetz is apparently about to be indicted for sex trafficking underage girls."
A spokesperson for Gaetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.