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Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the nation's rising-star conservative firebrands, told Axios he is under federal investigation for sexual activity with women, and fears being criminally charged.

What he's saying: "The allegations against me are as searing as they are false," Gaetz said in a 13-minute phone interview with Axios. "I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy."

  • Axios reported earlier Tuesday that Gaetz has privately told confidants he's seriously considering not seeking re-election, and possibly leaving Congress early for a job at Newsmax.

The big picture: Gaetz, 38, said the specifics of the allegations are "unclear," and he said he's been told "very little." But the New York Times reported late Tuesday afternoon that the Justice Department is investigating Gaetz "over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him."

  • "The allegations of sexual misconduct against me are false," Gaetz told Axios. "They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away."

Of note: He later said in a statement released Tuesday night that he and his family had over the past several weeks "been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name."

  • "We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals," he added.
"The planted leak to the New York Times tonight was intended to thwart that investigation. No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation. I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations."

For the record: Gaetz sent Axios screenshots of text messages, emails and documents outlining the alleged extortion scheme, which he claimed was being run by a former DOJ employee.

  • The Justice Department declined to comment.
  • Sounding shaken, Gaetz told Axios that for weeks, he and his father been working with the FBI in the Northern District of Florida on the extortion case. Gaetz said his lawyers were informed by the Justice Department that, "I was not a target but a subject of an investigation regarding sexual conduct with women." 
  • Asked what the charges could relate to, Gaetz said: "I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I've dated. You know, I've paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not."
  • Gaetz said he was "absolutely" confident none of the women were underage.

Go deeper

Mar 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Matt Gaetz eyes early retirement to take job at Newsmax

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has privately told confidants he's seriously considering not seeking re-election and possibly leaving Congress early for a job at Newsmax, three sources with direct knowledge of the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: Gaetz is a provocative figure on the right who's attracted attention by being a fierce defender of former President Trump. The Republican also represents a politically potent district on the Florida panhandle.

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 2 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

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