The Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy of California, told Fox News on Tuesday that Republicans would support removing Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL, from his committee assignments if allegations that he traveled and had a sexual relationship with an underage girl are proven true.
"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. "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."
Members of Congress were quick to react to a bombshell New York Times report that Gaetz has been under a DOJ investigation that began under former Attorney General Bill Barr's watch. Immediately following the allegations, Gaetz appeared on Fox News with host Tucker Carlson to tell his side of the story, which casts him as the victim of an elaborate $25 million extortion scheme carried out by the very agency investigating him: the DOJ.
"I have not had a relationship with a 17-year-old. That is totally false," Gaetz told Carlson in a Tuesday night interview. "That is false and records will bear that out to be false."
Gaetz specifically fingered former DOJ official David McGee as the mastermind of the scheme. McGee apparently intimidated the congressman with "false" allegations in order to "squeeze" money out of him and his family. "There was a demand for money in exchange for a commitment that he could make this investigation go away along with his co-conspirators," explained the Florida congressman.
"That was one of the weirdest interviews I've ever conducted," Carlson said in a follow-up.
Gaetz's tall claims drew a spectrum of reactions from both the press and his fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill, some of whom expressed skepticism toward his testimony.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif, called for Gaetz to be suspended from the House Judiciary Committee until the DOJ reaches a conclusive outcome. "He should not be sitting on a Congressional Committee with oversight over the DOJ while the Department is investigating him," Lieu tweeted immediately following the story. Asked about the allegations on Fox News, McCarthy said that while Gaetz would not be removed while the DOJ investigation, he would support doing so in the case that Gaetz is found to have acted inappropriately.
But Gaetz's fellow right-wing Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus, namely Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Jim Jordan of Ohio were quick to jump to his defense.
Business Insider published a report featuring interviews with a dozen current and former GOP and White House sources commenting on Gaetz's reputation within Congress. One White House staffer told Insider they "feel a little vindicated" by the allegations made against Gaetz because he is "the meanest person in politics."
"Good riddance," a former Trump aide reportedly said of Gaetz. "It sounds like he let whatever BS power he thought he had go to his head and he thought himself above the law.
Many on Twitter specifically took aim at how Gaetz called the teenage girl with whom he allegedly traveled a "17-year old woman."
"Using the phrase '17 year old woman' should tell you everything you need to know about Matt Gaetz," tweeted Zara Rahim, former Director of Communications at Vogue. Feminist author Jessica Valenti echoed, "Note that he says '17-year old woman." Teenagers are girls, not women."
Others on Twitter poked holes in Gaetz's story, which some noted felt eerily rehearsed in his interview.
"The supposed DOJ official extorting Matt Gaetz was David McGee, a career guy in DOJ who served as a 1st AUSA. Not someone in a position to extort," argued Los Angeles Times columnist Harry Litman.
Remarkably, the investigation is not the only time Gaetz has taken heat over sex trafficking. Back in 2017, Gaetz was the sole member of Congress to vote against an anti-human trafficking bill that allotted the federal government to more money to fight human trafficking throughout the U.S.