(CNN)As Rep. Matt Gaetz faces a rising scandal over a Department of Justice investigation into allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution, he’s settled on a clear strategy to fight back: Make this all about private lives and consenting adults while couching the broader probe as part of some sort of “deep state” effort to target him.
Gaetz laid out his defense in an op-ed published Monday night in the Washington Examiner. Here’s the key bit: “Washington scandal cycles are predictable, and sex is especially potent in politics. Let me first remind everyone that I am a representative in Congress, not a monk, and certainly not a criminal…”…Folks won’t be surprised that bizarre claims are being made about me shortly after I decided to take on the most powerful institutions in the Beltway: the establishment; the FBI; the Biden Justice Department; the Cheney political dynasty; even the Justice Department under Trump.”Now, let’s break it down piece by piece.Read MoreThe first part of the Gaetz blueprint is to minimize the allegations against him by admitting he hasn’t been perfect. He notes that he hasn’t been a “monk.” Later in the piece he admits that “my lifestyle of yesteryear may be different from how I live now, but it was not and is not illegal.”The message is simple: Gaetz enjoyed being a young, powerful single guy in Washington, but now says he enjoys being monogamous. And sure, his past personal conduct might not be the sort of thing he wants to tell his grandparents about, but that being single isn’t a crime. It’s Gaetz’s version of the famous George W. Bush quote about his wild days before settling down: “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.”
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The issue here is a legal one: The Justice Department is looking into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and whether he paid for her to travel with him.(Side note: In the Examiner op-ed Gaetz writes that “I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old.” He has also denied ever paying for sex.)As an aside, with the news of this investigation, others have come forward describing a number of different eyebrow-raising behaviors including showing photos of naked women to colleagues on Capitol Hill. Notably, Gaetz has not denied that accusation, but while such behavior might be inappropriate, it’s also not, by any indication, illegal.There’s a MASSIVE difference between Gaetz dating lots of adult women during his time in Congress and the allegations that the Justice Department is looking into. Gaetz, of course, knows that, but is choosing to publicly ignore the distinction because, well, he knows he is in deep political trouble.Then there’s the second part of the Gaetz defense: Official Washington is out to get him because he, as a strong ally of former President Donald Trump, is a threat to their cozy sinecures of power.Here’s Gaetz:”Predictably, the anti-Trump cheerleaders such as Meghan McCain, Bill Kristol, and sadly, some of my feckless colleagues in Congress are going to call for me to resign.”This is how D.C. works. The guilty and wrong point fingers at the innocent and right. Remember President Joe Biden’s Ukraine scandal? Or the Lincoln Project’s professions of moral superiority? Their scorn and moral posturing is all merely projection.”Under this construct set up by Gaetz, anyone who calls on him to resign because of the allegations against him is just a part of the establishment — the same people who twice impeached Trump and ignored President Biden’s “Ukraine scandal.” (Note: It wasn’t a scandal.)See, what this is really about, according to Gaetz, isn’t the allegations against him. It’s about the professional political class targeting him because he “decided to take on the most powerful institutions in the Beltway: the establishment; the FBI; the Biden Justice Department; the Cheney political dynasty; even the Justice Department under Trump.”Wait, so this is all about the fact that Gaetz went to Wyoming to rally support against Rep. Liz Cheney (R) after she voted to impeach Trump? Man, maybe the Cheneys do control everything!This line of argument is, in a word, dumb. To believe that Gaetz is being targeted unfairly, you have to believe that the Trump Justice Department under Bill Barr, which launched this investigation, is in on it with the current Biden Justice Department — and they somehow coordinated all of this for months.Which, when you write it all out, seems totally ludicrous. Mostly because it is.Look: The Justice Department is in the middle of an investigation into whether Gaetz’s alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old broke federal sex trafficking and prostitution laws. That doesn’t make him guilty. But his attempts to spin this as nothing but above-the-board wild behavior by a single guy that is now being criminalized by a “D.C. swamp” out to get him because of his outspoken beliefs also miss the mark — by a lot.