Did Bill Barr approve Matt Gaetz's investigation? Sex trafficking probe likely launched when Trump was president

The Florida Republican lawmaker has found himself in a spot over an alleged relationship with a minor girl who he might have paid to travel across state lines

                            Did Bill Barr approve Matt Gaetz's investigation? Sex trafficking probe likely launched when Trump was president
Former AG Bill Barr and Florida GOP Representative Matt Gaetz (Getty Images)

Matt Gaetz — a Republican lawmaker from Florida and defender of former president Donald Trump — is under the scanner as part of a federal sex-trafficking investigation over an alleged relationship he had with a minor girl, according to a bombshell report by The New York Times on Tuesday, March 30. The House member might have also allegedly paid her to travel across state lines. But did Gaetz come under the scanner when Trump was in power? And is Bill Barr the unnamed 

According to the report, “Investigators are examining whether Mr Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences. It was not clear how Mr Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people.”


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Rep Matt Gaetz (Getty Images) 

Gaetz, the 38-year-old first-time House member, denied the allegations against him in a statement on Tuesday. He also said he is being threatened in a $25 million “organized criminal extortion” scheme that involves a former justice department official. He also said he was cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and that his father Don Gaetz, who has served as a member of the Florida Senate, “Has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals”. He also wanted the justice department to immediately release the tapes. 

Gaetz also said in an amended version of the statement that the “planted leak to the New York Times” was aimed at disrupting that probe. Initially, his statement said that the story had been leaked to the FBI. “No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation,” the GOP lawmaker’s statement said.





'The investigation was opened under Bill Barr'

However, the Times report said citing two sources that the justice department’s examination of the lawmaker was opened in the final months of the former Trump administration when William Barr was the attorney general. Senior officials of the Trump administration were also reportedly told about the investigation. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks to a crowd during a rally against Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) on January 28, 2021 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. (Getty Images)

"Keep in mind, when this investigation was opened, it was opened under the Justice Department under William P Barr, who last February, told all prosecutors if anyone is investigated with a member of Congress, somebody running for office, anybody high-profile, that investigation had to be signed off on by their supervisor, the head of the criminal division and briefed to Bill Barr himself,” Kettie Benner, one of the authors of the NYT report, said, according to Raw Story. “It is unlikely that Bill Barr would have investigated one of President Trump’s biggest allies as part of an extortion plot.”

Gaetz, who had taken on party colleague and Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney two months ago for voting in favor of Trump’s impeachment in the House in January, told Fox News on Tuesday night that the “horrible allegation” against him “is a lie”. The Florida lawmaker, who has privately revealed that he is considering leaving the Congress early to take a job at conservative news outlet Newsmax and not seek re-election, had encounters with the girl in 2019, the Times report said citing sources. Investigators are zeroing on whether he paid for the girl to travel with him across state lines and breached federal sex-trafficking laws. 

'It was not on my bingo card'

Reactions came pouring in thick and fast with many wondering over the report that the investigation against the pro-Trump politician was launched when Trump was in power. Tim O'Brien, Bloomberg Opinion columnist, said in a tweet: "Matt Gaetz being investigated for possible sex trafficking in a DOJ investigation that began when Bill Barr was still running the show was not on my bingo card."



David Corn, the Washington DC bureau chief for Mother Jones, asked in a tweet: "It was the Trump Justice Department under Trump AG Bill Barr that launched the investigation of Trump ally @mattgaetz. Must be political, right?"


Journalist Carol Leonning couldn't hide her surprise and said in a post: "Wow. Pro-Trump congressman under investigation for possible sex relationship with a 17 year old girl , while a close friend is under investigation for sex-trafficking a minor and sex-for-financial support. Opened under Bill Barr"