FBI Records Reveal Matt Gaetz Was in Chaos Mode as Scandal Broke

·8 min read
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Fifteen minutes before Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was due to go on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show on March 30, 2021—hours after a bombshell report that he was under investigation for allegedly sex trafficking a minor—Gaetz was shouting, repeatedly, at FBI agents in his family home.

“Do you have a warrant to be here?” Gaetz yelled, according to an FBI report of the event obtained by The Daily Beast.

But as adversarial as Gaetz was in those moments, the agents weren’t after him. They were actually there to help him, and his father, who had been cooperating with the FBI for several days in a sting operation that Gaetz claimed on live TV minutes later would clear his name.

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This scene and others are detailed in previously unreported documents that shine new light on the sting operation, which Gaetz helped orchestrate in the frenzied days before The New York Times published the explosive report that changed the Panhandle congressman’s public and political life.

The documents, in possession of federal prosecutors and obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast, confirm parts of the story of international intrigue and attempted fraud that Gaetz described to Carlson minutes after the agents left his home. But the records also contradict fundamental claims in Gaetz’s version of events, raising new questions about the congressman’s own role in the sting, as well as when and why he began to cooperate with the feds.

One document contains a key but so far elusive detail about the origins of the ongoing federal sex trafficking investigation into Gaetz: when, exactly, it began.

When Gaetz first recounted the story to Carlson, it was, for an unprepared public still processing the news of the sex trafficking probe, a head-spinning chain of events.

According to Gaetz, two men approached his father—Don Gaetz, the wealthy former president of the Florida Senate and a political power broker to this day—with a bizarre quid pro quo: If Don Gaetz would give them $25 million, they could make the investigation into his son’s alleged sex crimes go away.

The stated motivation for the $25 million payment was perhaps even more bizarre. The men said they wanted to use the money to rescue Bob Levinson, an American taken hostage in Iran and long presumed dead.

“Our family was so troubled by that, we went to the local FBI,” Gaetz told Carlson.

But FBI records dispute that sequence of events.

According to the documents, the FBI learned of the Levinson plot independently through layers of intermediaries. Agents only spoke to Matt Gaetz after reaching out to him through one of those intermediaries.

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Gaetz also mangled the story in other ways, telling Carlson without evidence that this was all a “deep state” plot against him. He claimed the allegations in the Times report somehow sprang from this same plot. But that logic didn’t hold. The Gaetz probe was already several months old, according to the documents. The FBI investigation into the Levinson plot had just started days ago.

When the Fox News segment was over, a baffled Carlson called it “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.” Eventually, however, Gaetz achieved some degree of vindication when one of the men at the center of the hostage plan, convicted felon Stephen M. Alford, admitted last November to wire fraud in connection with that plot.

Still, the records contradict Gaetz more than they confirm his sequence of events.

According to the documents, Gaetz had his first conversation with the FBI on March 19, when he told agents that his father had already met the two men—Alford and another associate—just the day before to discuss their offer in person.

It wasn’t, as Gaetz had claimed, that his family contacted the FBI to discuss a potential extortion scheme. According to that FBI special agent’s field report contained in the documents, the agent learned of the plot earlier that day when a retired agent from Jacksonville tipped her off to a lead.

The active agent followed that lead to another former FBI agent—this one based in Miami—who told her about the Levinson plan. The men making the offer, this Miami agent said, had claimed to have “information on Congressman Gaetz.” (The report also clarifies that the Miami agent’s tip didn’t come directly from Gaetz.)

When the FBI finally got in touch with Matt Gaetz over the phone, he claimed that on the previous day, his father had two in-person meetings with the men to discuss their plan. Alford was brought in for the second meeting, Matt Gaetz noted, and promised to “make Congressman GAETZ’s criminal case go away.”

At the end of the phone call, Gaetz asked the FBI agent to call his father.

Contact between the Gaetzes and Alford ceased without a deal. And on March 25, one week after meeting with Alford, Don Gaetz was in the FBI’s Fort Walton Beach office, with his attorney and two special agents. A record of the meeting shows the agents spun through a PowerPoint-assisted strategy session, designed to restart the Levinson negotiations—and sting the alleged perpetrators.

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In that meeting, Don Gaetz mentioned the investigation into his son. He told the pair of agents that he had heard, third-hand, that a former Justice Department attorney tied to the Levinson plan had brought up the investigation in a conversation. When agents inquired further, Don Gaetz’s attorney intervened and referred them to Matt Gaetz’s lawyer.

Matt Gaetz—whose campaign paid $5,000 to Trump whisperer and notorious “deep state” antagonist Roger Stone for strategic consulting the day before his father’s meeting with the FBI—would days later invoke that former DOJ attorney as a “deep state” bogeyman in his Carlson appearance.

The next day, on March 26, Don Gaetz surreptitiously taped an in-person conversation with Alford’s lawyer, the former DOJ attorney mentioned above. He later recorded another conversation with Alford himself, where Alford promised a presidential pardon for his son.

Then, according to the records, at around 2:30 p.m. on March 30, Don Gaetz met a special agent at a Publix grocery store in Niceville, Florida, to receive a recording device for a follow-up conversation with Alford the next day. Hours later, The New York Times disclosed the sex trafficking investigation into Gaetz.

That evening—around 7:45 p.m., according to the FBI report—two special agents rang the doorbell at the Gaetz family residence. They had come for their recording device. The sting was off, but the records don’t explain why, and they don’t mention the Times story.

After Don Gaetz handed them the recording device, the agents asked if they could take photos of his text messages with Alford, according to FBI records of the incident. Don Gaetz “voluntarily” handed over his phone, and as an agent snapped one photo of a text, Matt Gaetz “appeared outside from another area of the residence.”

“M. GAETZ yelled, ‘He has a lawyer!’ multiple times,” the report says. The agent handed the phone back to Don Gaetz, and they arranged to get in touch with his attorney.

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As the agents walked back to their vehicle, according to the document, “M. GAETZ yelled, ‘Do you have a warrant to be here?’” and asked his father if they took anything from him. The agents did not respond, the report says. Don Gaetz answered his son: no, they only took the recording device they had previously given him.

Minutes later, Matt Gaetz was on national television delivering a broadside against the men he still alleges extorted his family, while at the same time describing a series of events that FBI records show wasn’t accurate.

A Gaetz spokesperson told The Daily Beast that Gaetz stands by his version of events.

“Rep. Matt Gaetz stands by every word he has said about this fiasco. Time has only vindicated his claims and resulted in the guilty plea of one of the people involved in a shakedown of his family,” the spokesperson said. “Due to ongoing investigations of other people involved in this shakedown, we will not have further comment.”

It is unclear why Gaetz, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee and has oversight of the Justice Department, would seek to disclose an allegedly ongoing and previously unreported investigation. Three people familiar with the events denied there was an investigation, and the FBI declined to comment. The Daily Beast could only confirm that one of the people involved is currently under investigation: Matt Gaetz.

Although the ongoing investigation has persisted with little action recently, the government records provide new insight as to when that investigation started.

According to previous news reports, the DOJ, led by Trump-appointed Attorney General Bill Barr, launched its investigation in the “final months of the Trump administration.” But the FBI documents more narrowly ascribe the start of the investigation to the “summer of 2020.”

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DOJ records obtained by The Daily Beast show that the probe opened specifically in August 2020—the same month the feds indicted Gaetz’s former “wingman” Joel Greenberg for allegedly sex trafficking the teen at the center of the Gaetz investigation.

Ultimately, only one man—Alford—pleaded guilty to the pardon-for-hostage plan, admitting last November to one count of wire fraud. The charge carries up to 20 years, and Alford currently awaits sentencing in Santa Rosa County jail. In late April, the court pushed his sentencing date back to June 1, for reasons still under seal.

On Monday, a federal judge in the Middle District of Florida also postponed Greenberg’s sentencing for a third time. Greenberg, who pleaded guilty to the trafficking charge one year ago, is now scheduled to be sentenced in August. The delay, the judge said, was “in the interest of justice.”

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