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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.

Policy group lays groundwork for "net negative" emissions tech

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new policy roadmap provides Congress and the White House with ways to support the growth of methods to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using everything from existing forests to direct air capture machines.

Driving the news: Recent climate studies, such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 1.5-degree report, have pointed to the clear need for society to pursue strategies for driving carbon emissions into negative territory by the latter half of the century.

New CDC mask guidance tests risk tolerance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The CDC announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors.

Why it matters: The U.S. is entering a new stage in the pandemic where the public — vaccinated or not — will need to assess its own risk tolerance in shared spaces.

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