“I have not had a relationship with a 17-year-old. That is totally false. … And records will bear that out to be false.”
— Gaetz, in the interview
The Justice Department is investigating Gaetz over an alleged sexual relationship about two years ago with a 17-year-old girl.
Gaetz, 38, has confirmed that he is a subject of the investigation. He denies the allegations and says his family is being blackmailed by a former federal prosecutor seeking $25 million.
The Gaetz investigation was first reported by the New York Times on Tuesday. That night, Gaetz went on Fox News and called the story “verifiably false.” He said “people can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case.”
The Fact Checker could not resist this invitation. We found that Gaetz’s line about “travel records” is a complete smokescreen. They disprove nothing.
A third-term congressman from the Florida Panhandle, Gaetz is a frequent guest on right-wing media and an ally of former president Donald Trump. He has not been charged with any crimes.
The Washington Post reported that the investigation into Gaetz began last year, when Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr were still in office.
Authorities were pursuing a criminal case against the Seminole County tax collector, Joel Greenberg, a Gaetz ally who was indicted last year on allegations of sex-trafficking a girl between 14 and 17 years of age. Greenberg pleaded not guilty.
That case led investigators to Gaetz and allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travel. Once this probe was underway, Gaetz’s family raised allegations that the congressman was being extorted, and the FBI separately is exploring those claims, The Post reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Federal laws prohibit the transportation of minors across state lines to engage in sex and prohibit sex with minors in exchange for anything of value.
Gaetz challenged the New York Times’s reporting that he traveled with a 17-year-old girl and said, “People can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case.” He also denied having had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl and said that “records will bear that out to be false.”
In the same Fox News interview, Gaetz said that “providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”
The salient details of the Times report were confirmed within hours by The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and CNN. Gaetz himself confirmed to the Times and others that he is under investigation. He said the Justice Department told his lawyer that Gaetz was a “subject” but not a “target” of the probe, according to the Times.
Now, let’s cut to the chase.
Which records is Gaetz referring to, where can they be found, and how do they disprove the allegations against him?
These are natural questions following his comments on Fox News. Gaetz says the records would clear his name. But when we asked to see them, neither he nor his staff acknowledged our questions. That’s very fishy.
Here’s the bottom line: House members’ personal travel and expenses are not subject to disclosure, so there would be no public records to check regarding Gaetz’s private life.
“If this was just personal travel, and he wasn’t using campaign or official funds, there’s no disclosure,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Airline flight manifests and personal credit card or bank statements would chart who went where with whom at what times and at whose expense, but those sensitive records are not public. Only law enforcement investigators could look through them by getting subpoenas.
“There’s no way to know without the DOJ subpoenaing his personal credit card records or those of Joel Greenberg, or someone else may have been involved,” Libowitz said.
The disclosures Gaetz did file with the House Ethics Committee and the Federal Election Commission, regarding official trips, campaign expenses or speaking events, do not include the information he told Fox News viewers could be checked.
These forms do not require that Gaetz list every person who traveled with him on the trips he disclosed. At most, one House ethics form for disclosing “gift travel” asks that accompanying “relatives” or “family members” be listed.
Gift travel filings show that Gaetz has taken three trips paid for by sponsors since taking office in 2017. The first was in August 2017 to three cities in Israel, paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation. Gaetz’s father, Donald Gaetz, joined him on the trip, and his expenses also were covered by the foundation, the form shows.
The second trip was in January 2018 to Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show; the trip was sponsored by the Consumer Technology Association. Gaetz indicated that no relatives joined him on the trip.
The third trip was to Yale University in New Haven, Conn., in February 2019. Gaetz indicated that no family members joined him.
Last, his campaign expenditure reports to the FEC also do not provide the proof Gaetz suggested was out there. For example, his report for the fourth quarter of 2019 itemizes various airfare expenses, listing the airline and cost, but not who was traveling.
The whole issue is a bit of a Catch-22: Gaetz is not required to file disclosures concerning his private life and expenses. But if he somehow used campaign or taxpayer funds for personal matters, there might be a paper trail to follow. However, using campaign or taxpayer funds for personal matters would be a crime unto itself. Former congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) pleaded guilty to various campaign finance violations last year, including using campaign funds to pay for trips, dinners and drinks for his mistresses. He was sentenced to 11 months in prison but was pardoned by Trump.
We repeatedly asked Gaetz’s chief of staff Jillian Lane Wyant and his spokesman Luke Ball to show us the travel records supposedly debunking the allegations and received no response. We also sent a text message directly to Gaetz with our query and got no reply.
In the same Fox News interview, Gaetz made a separate claim that the host, Tucker Carlson, disputed on air.
“Actually, you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine. You’ll remember her,” Gaetz told Carlson. “And she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that she could face trouble. And so, I do believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to smear me.”
Carlson said, “I don’t remember the woman you are speaking of or the context at all, honestly.”
The Pinocchio Test
Gaetz said: “The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false. People can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case.”
This fact check is strictly about Gaetz’s claim that his publicly available travel records would debunk reporting in the New York Times and other outlets. The news organizations reported only that he is under investigation over an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, not that it actually happened.
The fact that he is under investigation is indisputable. Gaetz has not been charged with any crime and denies these allegations. But he also has confirmed the investigation’s existence.
As a House member, Gaetz is not required to file disclosures concerning his private life and expenses. The disclosure forms he has filed do not disprove that he is under investigation for traveling with a 17-year-old girl or arranging her travel.
We searched through all the available records and found nothing to support Gaetz’s claim. We repeatedly asked his staff to show us the records and heard crickets. We asked Gaetz directly — nothing, radio silence.
As regular readers know, the burden of proof is on the speaker. Gaetz is putting up a smokescreen, falsely reassuring viewers with nonexistent evidence. He earns Four Pinocchios. Show us the travel records, and the rating may change.
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