The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives’ Ethics Committee on Friday said it had opened an investigation into allegations that Republican congressman Matt Gaetz “may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use” among other things.
The panel’s Democratic chairman and top Republican in a statement said they had become “aware of public allegations” that Gaetz, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, may have violated “House rules, laws, or other standards of conduct.”
Gaetz is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department for possibly violating sex-trafficking laws by paying travel expenses for a 17-year-old female with whom he was romantically involved, according to a U.S. law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Florida congressman has not been charged with any crimes and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
The ethics committee leaders said the allegations it was aware of included whether 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.”
Gaetz’s office responded in a statement: “Once again, the office will reiterate, these allegations are blatantly false and have not been validated by a single human being willing to put their name behind them.”
Earlier, Representative Adam Kinzinger became the first congressional Republican to call for Gaetz to resign.
“Matt Gaetz needs to resign,” Kinzinger, an outspoken critic of Trump, said in a Twitter post on Thursday night.
A friend of Gaetz, former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, is expected to plead guilty in a sex trafficking and fraud case in a Florida federal court, officials said on Thursday.
Greenberg’s attorney Fritz Scheller told reporters on Thursday, “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.” Scheller may have been referring to media reports that Greenberg could cooperate with federal investigators in their probe of Gaetz.
Two New York criminal defense lawyers on Friday confirmed they had been hired by Gaetz.
“Matt has always been a fighter … and he’s going to fight back against the unfounded allegations against him. His legal team, led by Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner, will take the fight to those trying to smear his name with falsehoods,” said a statement on the lawyers’ behalf by Erin Elmore of the Logan Circle Group.
Gaetz was scheduled to speak on Friday at the “Save America Summit” at the Trump National Doral resort in Miami. The summit is being organized by Women for America First, a pro-Trump group that organized a Jan. 6 rally near the White House that preceded the U.S. Capitol riot.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Dan Grebler and Grant McCool)
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