(CNN)In response to stunning New York Times reporting that the Justice Department is investigating a possible sexual relationship between Matt Gaetz and a 17-year-old girl, the Florida Republican congressman vehemently denied the accusation and told a broader story of intrigue involving himself and his father.
Here’s how Gaetz explained it to CNN:“Over the past several weeks my family and I have 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.””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.”Gaetz, in fact, went even further in an interview Tuesday night with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson — insisting that the 17-year-old girl “doesn’t exist.”Read MoreJust to be totally clear, here’s where we are: A sitting member of Congress is saying that he is the victim of an extortion effort by a former Justice Department official involving a made-up 17-year-old girl and a made-up relationship with her.
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Which is, well, a BIG allegation. Like, a broad-scale extortion effort involving a former DOJ official? Man! The problem with Gaetz’s explanation that this is all one big misunderstanding — and his calls for the FBI and Department of Justice to clear things up — is this: The Department of Justice isn’t saying anything.The Department of Justice declined to comment to CNN on Tuesday night. In a statement to CNN, the FBI in Jacksonville said, “The FBI declines to confirm nor deny the existence or status of an investigation. We refer you to the Department of Justice for further comment regarding this report.”Which, well, seems to matter. Because, if Gaetz’s allegations are totally accurate, it would seem incumbent upon the DOJ and/or the FBI to say so. Allegations that a 38-year-old member of Congress had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and may have paid for her to travel with him are serious. The Justice Department is even investigating whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, according to The New York Times report. If they are entirely inaccurate — and if the teenager is, as Gaetz claims, entirely fictional — then the FBI and DOJ not saying so could, after a while, amount to character assassination.And yet, neither the DOJ or FBI has said anything — amid repeated requests from media organizations to do so. (Worth noting for people alleging that this is a political hit on Gaetz, a major ally of former President Donald Trump: The investigation began in the final months of the Trump presidency, while Bill Barr was still the Attorney General.)Of course, the silence — at least at the moment — from the DOJ and FBI isn’t conclusive vis a vis Gaetz. Ongoing investigations are rarely commented on. But ongoing investigations very rarely deal with a very high-profile member of Congress like Gaetz who is telling anyone who will listen that this is all a sham and he is the real victim.Keep an eye on the DOJ and FBI. Continued silence — assuming Gaetz doesn’t back down from his allegations — may well be telling.