The 38-year-old, once tipped as a rising star of the Republican Party, is being investigated by the Department of Justice over allegations he had sex with a 17-year-old girl.
The DoJ is also probing separate claims that Gaetz broke federal sex trafficking laws and was involved in a scheme to recruit and pay women for sex.
The billboard in Crestview, a city in northeast Florida, was paid for by Mad Dog PAC which says on its website that it was founded to, ‘Fight Fascism. Stop Trump.’
It features a black and white photo of the embattled congressman with the striking claim: ‘Matt Gaetz wants to “date” your child.’
Gaetz has pushed back forcefully against the allegations he faces, penning a column in the Washington Examiner Monday which said: ‘The swamp is out to drown me with false charges, but I’m not giving up.’
Gaetz, a third-term congressman from Florida, has not been charged with a crime, and he has vehemently denied the various accusations against him, among them that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, as a ‘lie.’
The billboard in Crestview, a city in northeast Flordia, was paid for by Mad Dog PAC which says on its website that it was founded to ‘Fight Fascism. Stop Trump’
The sign features a black and white photo of the embattled congressman with the striking claim: ‘Matt Gaetz wants to ‘date’ your child.’
Matt Gaetz (R-FL) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference being held in the Hyatt Regency on February 26, 2021 in Orlando
But the unsettling panoply of allegations has put Gaetz’s political future in doubt just as he was being seen as an increasingly potent force in the Republican Party.
In the latest twist, The New York Times – which last week broke the story that the DoJ was investigating Gaetz – reported Wednesday that the congressman had sought a blanket pardon from the White House in the waning weeks of Trump’s presidency.
Trump had grown fond of Gaetz, a lawmaker who offered fierce loyalty to the president throughout his four-year term. But a Gaetz pardon never came.
With the scandal mushrooming, Trump himself weighed in on Wednesday.
‘Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,’ the 45th president said. ‘It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.’
The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, last week acknowledged the allegations were ‘serious’ and could lead to severe repercussions, but said he wanted to see more of the facts.
‘If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him,’ McCarthy told Fox News.
Gaetz has pushed back forcefully against the allegations and sought to divert attention from the DOJ investigation by insisting he and his family have been victims of an extortion scheme.
He says two men, including former Air Force officer Robert Kent, approached Gaetz’s father seeking $25 million to fund their bid to locate and free American Robert Levinson, who disappeared 14 years ago in Iran.
Kent acknowledged texting the congressman’s father Don Gaetz, a former Florida Senate president, telling him he knew of an ‘indictment’ soon to be filed against his son, and that ‘I have a plan that can make his future legal and political problems go away.’
Speaking to CNN, Kent said mentioning Gaetz’s legal trouble was merely a ‘teaser,’ and he explained to the father ‘that this was not an extortion attempt,’ but a legitimate offer to help rescue Levinson while potentially showing Representative Gaetz in a positive light.
Levinson’s family said in 2020 that US officials had told them that the ex-FBI agent had died while in Iranian custody.
Brash and combative, Gaetz has taken controversial steps in Congress, wearing a gas mask on the House floor last year during a vote on an early coronavirus response package.
In 2019 he delayed impeachment proceedings against Trump when he led dozens of Republican lawmakers who burst into closed-door witness depositions and refused to leave for several hours.
And in January Gaetz traveled to Wyoming to help stir up opposition to senior congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.
Gaetz, a Republican congressman from Florida, is pictured with his fiancée Ginger Luckey
Donald Trump on Wednesday said Gaetz ‘never’ asked him for a pardon and offered a tepid defense of the embattled Florida Republican
Salacious details of Gaetz’s behavior have emerged too. According to CNN, Gaetz bragged about his sexual escapades to fellow lawmakers, showing them nude photographs of women he claimed to have slept with.
Gaetz has dug in, writing in the Examiner: ‘Washington scandal cycles are predictable, and sex is especially potent in politics. Let me first remind everyone that I am a representative in Congress, not a monk, and certainly not a criminal.’
But the DOJ investigation – which was launched while Trump was still in office and not by Gaetz’s political opponents – could halt the ambitious Republican’s rise.
It centers on Gaetz and fellow Floridian Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Seminole County who was indicted last year on a federal child sex trafficking charge.
According to the Times, people close to the investigation said they believe Greenberg met women through websites and introduced them to Gaetz, who had sex with them.
The DOJ is also investigating whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old.
Most Republicans meanwhile have withheld comment on Gaetz’s scandal. He is scheduled to speak Friday at a Trump-owned golf club in Miami, during the ‘Save America Summit’ sponsored by a pro-Trump women’s group.
MailOnline has contacted Gaetz’s office for comment.
TIMELINE OF THE GAETZ SAGA
MARCH 30: The New York Times reports that Gaetz is under investigation for a sexual relationship with an underage girl.
Details are sparse but the relationship is said to have happened two years ago.
Gaetz went on Tucker Carlson’s FOX News show that night to deny the allegations and claim he was the victim of an extortion plot.
He names David McGee as a DoJ official who is extorting him. McGee denies it.
MARCH 31: Gaetz’s father Don tells Politico that the extortion plot is real and that he was working with his son and the FBI to expose it
APRIL 1: Texts emerge to support Gaetz’s claim that he was being extorted and they introduce a new element to the saga – that the extortion plot was part of a ruse to rescue American hostage Robert Levinson from Iran.
Rep Matt Gaetz
Gaetz, 38, is the representative for Florida’s 1st congressional district.
He is a Trump ally who has ties to Roger Stone and he’s been known to fan the flames of controversy in the past.
He has DUI convictions, has been accused of inciting violence on Twitter and claimed that facial recognition technology proved some of the January 6 Capitol rioters were not Trump fans, but ‘antifa’ masquerading as them.
Gaetz’s father who was a well-liked state Senator. He sold his company with his partners for $406million in 2004.
They had founded VITAS Healthcare in the 1980s. He was a senator for ten years from 2006 until 2016.
McGee was a prosecutor with the Department of Justice but he is now a private practice attorney.
According to his bio on his law firm’s website, he spent six years as the First Assistant at the United States Attorney’s Office and for seven years as the Lead Attorney for a United States Department of Justice Organized Crime Task Force.
Kent is an Air Force intelligence officer whose involvement in the alleged plot was only revealed on Wednesday night through the texts.
Levinson spent 22 years working for the FBI before he vanished in Iran in 2007. The government claimed they knew nothing about it but later admitted he had been working there for the CIA.
The last time he was seen alive was in 2011, when he appeared in proof of life photos. His family say that this month, they were given reason to believe he was dead.