A Monday press conference called by a former staffer of Rep. Matt Gaetz failed to shed any new light on the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the Florida congressman’s relationship with a 17-year-old girl and possible payments for sex to other women.
Nathan Nelson, an Air Force veteran who previously served as the director of military affairs for Gaetz's office, spoke at the press conference.
“I’m not here to provide any degree of evidence in support of Congressman Gaetz, only to discredit these baseless allegations,” Nelson said when asked what evidence he had seen so far. On Monday morning, Gaetz’s office and the congressman himself had promoted the event.
When asked what he knew about the Justice Department inquiry that would lead him to discredit it, Nelson replied, “I don’t have any specific knowledge on the investigation or any of the facts that are involved with the investigation.”
Nelson began the nine-minute event by saying that the FBI had visited him last Wednesday to inquire whether his October departure from Gaetz’s office was tied to the allegations made against the congressman. The former staffer emphasized that his transition to the private sector was not connected and that he had no knowledge of any improper activities by the congressman. Nelson added that he believed that the allegations against Gaetz were “merely an attempt to discredit a very vocal conservative.”
The controversy around Gaetz, 38, began last Tuesday, when the New York Times reported he was being investigated by the Justice Department over a possible sexual relationship with a minor and whether Gaetz had violated child sex trafficking laws by transporting her across state lines. The investigation began under former Attorney General William Barr.
Gaetz denied the allegations, but the New York Times provided further details in an April 1 story, stating that the investigation was about whether Gaetz was paying women for sex, via cash, hotel stays and dinners. CNN reported that he had shown nude photos of women he claimed to be sleeping with to fellow members of Congress, including on the House floor. Luke Ball, Gaetz’s communications director, resigned Friday.
When asked if he had spoken to Gaetz recently, Nelson said it had been several months since their last conversation. He added that he was still “loosely affiliated” with Gaetz, acting as an unpaid military adviser to the congressional office. Nelson also noted that he had reached out to Gaetz’s office following the FBI’s visit, to let the staff know what he had told authorities.
The Monday press conference was the latest example of the dilemma facing Gaetz. While the congressman has adamantly denied the allegations against him, his explanations have often served to raise even more questions than they have answered.
Last week, Gaetz claimed that the investigation into child trafficking was linked to an extortion plot against him and his family.
"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," Gaetz told Axios after the initial Times report last Tuesday.
Later that same night, the congressman was interviewed by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Gaetz claimed that the extortion attempt began on March 16 when “people were talking about a minor and that there were pictures of me with child prostitutes. That’s obviously false. There will be no such pictures, because no such thing happened.”
Gaetz then attempted to pull Carlson into the story, telling him, “I can say that, 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. 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.”
“I don't remember the woman you're speaking of,” Carlson said, “or the context at all.”
Later in the broadcast, Carlson remarked that the congressman's appearance was “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
The Justice Department scrutiny of Gaetz stems from a federal investigation into Joel Greenberg, a onetime Florida Republican official who was indicted last summer on 14 charges, including sex trafficking of a minor, using a state database to create fake IDs and stalking a political opponent. Investigators believe that Greenberg had a sexual relationship with the same 17-year-old who is thought to have had sex with Gaetz. The two men are also being investigated for using a website to set up sexual encounters with women at Florida hotels in exchange for cash payments, travel and meals.
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