A senior member of Rep. Matt Gaetz's staff resigned Friday amid a widening scandal relating to allegations of sex trafficking and an inappropriate relationship with a minor.
Luke Ball, Gaetz's communications director, tendered his resignation hours after the New York Times released a second bombshell story detailing cash payments that Gaetz, a Florida Republican and close political ally of former President Donald Trump, made to several women, apparently in exchange for sex.
An ongoing Justice Department investigation is looking into whether Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old girl and provided her with anything of value in return. Federal child sex trafficking law prohibits providing anything of value to someone under the age of 18 in exchange for sex.
The Times was shown the records of payments made by Gaetz to a woman on two mobile apps, the paper reported Thursday, but the documented sexual encounters at Florida hotels extended to multiple women who, according to the Times, told friends they were paid for their services.
Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, was indicted last year for multiple crimes, including sex-trafficking the same 17-year-old girl who may have been involved with Gaetz. He is also involved in the payments allegedly made to the women in exchange for sex.
“Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex,” Gaetz's office said in a statement to the Times. “Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life.”
With scrutiny of Gaetz growing by the moment, CNN reported late Thursday that he had often boasted of his sexual conquests to other members of Congress, sometimes going so far as to show off naked photos and videos while on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives of women he had slept with.
While serving in the Florida Legislature, Gaetz and other male lawmakers were known to have made a game out of their sexual conquests, establishing a scoring system for those who had sex with women they considered targets, including interns and colleagues, the Miami Herald reported.
Gaetz and Greenberg used a website called Seeking Arrangement to make contact with some of the women they invited to hotel rooms in 2019 and 2020. That site advertises itself as matching wealthy men with women looking to be pampered. But the Times reported that the encounters between the two men and multiple women, some of which also included the use of the drug ecstasy, were sexual in nature and may have violated the law.
While alleging that he is the victim of an extortion plot, Gaetz portrayed his relationships with the women differently than many of the women involved did.
“I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” he told the Times.
With his future in politics suddenly tenuous, a vanishingly small number of Gaetz's Republican colleagues rushed to his defense this week.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, however, was less supportive.
“Those are serious implications. If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that’s the case,” McCarthy told Fox News on Wednesday. “But right now Matt Gaetz says that it’s not true, and we don't have any information. So let’s get all the information.”
The Justice Department's investigation of Gaetz began in the summer of 2020, under Trump’s then-Attorney General William Barr.
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