DORAL, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, embroiled in scandal after it was reported recently that he had been targeted by federal sex trafficking investigation, continued to dismiss the accusations as “smears” and said he’s “not going anywhere” Friday, during an event with a conservative women’s group in Doral.
The Florida congressman said he has the support of other Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
“This past week has been full of encouragement,” Gaetz said at Trump National Doral during a dinner event organized by Women for America First, which was largely responsible for organizing the rally that preceded a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol in January.
Gaetz, who is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegations he had sex with a 17-year-old, was billed as the keynote speaker for the four-day “Save America Summit,” where Taylor Greene was expected to speak Saturday.
The department’s investigation into Gaetz reportedly emerged from a probe into former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, who is facing 33 federal charges, including child sex trafficking and fraud.
On Thursday, Greenberg’s attorney said he will likely agree to a plea deal, which spurred speculation he could provide information about Gaetz to prosecutors, who are examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to a report by The New York Times.
Gaetz has denied the allegations, saying a former Air Force intelligence officer tried to extort his father, former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz.
The congressman wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the Washington Examiner that he is “absolutely not resigning.” He seemed to repeat that vow in his remarks on Friday.
“I’m built for the battle and I’m not going anywhere,” Gaetz said. “The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life, to wild, and I mean, wild, conspiracy theories.”
But the pressure on Gaetz intensified Friday, as the House Ethics Committee said it has opened an investigation into reports of sexual and other misconduct by the Florida Republican.
“The committee is aware of public allegations that Rep. Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct,” said Chairman Rep. Ted Deutsch, D-Fla., and ranking Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana in a statement.
Gaetz started his 17-minute speech by declaring, “my amazing fiancée Ginger, I love you with all my heart and I can assure you, the best is indeed yet to come.”
In addition to dismissing the allegations against him, he praised several women in his life, including his mother and district director. He also repeated several popular GOP talking points, including debunked claims about a “stolen” presidential election.
Gaetz’s remarks received a standing ovation from a group of a few dozen people who gathered at the outdoor event.
Bettina Langlais of Parker, Texas, said she thinks Gaetz is being targeted by Democrats who anticipate he will one day run for president.
“This guy’s being framed being framed for something where there’s really no proof,” said Langlais, 58.
Others agreed, dismissing the accusations against Gaetz as false.
“I love him and I do believe what he is saying,” said Monika Page, 71. “I believe what the media is accusing him of is fake.”
On Friday, Gaetz a protégé of Trump, echoed the former president by blaming the charges against him on the press and his opponents.
“I won’t be intimidated by a lying media and I won’t be extorted by a former DOJ official and the crooks that he is working with,” Gaetz said. “The truth will prevail.”