‘Naughty favours’: Matt Gaetz seeks to ridicule allegations he paid underaged girl for sex

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

The embattled Florida congressman Matt Gaetz has compared allegations of sexual misconduct involving a minor to earmarks, a congressional process by which spending measures beneficial to representatives’ districts are attached to legislation.

“I’m being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors,” he said, speaking to Republicans in Ohio on Saturday.

Gaetz also said he wanted to be “Robin” to Jim Jordan’s “Batman”.

Jordan is an Ohio representative and hard-right leader in the House, like Gaetz a vocal ally of Donald Trump. He is also dogged by scandal, over his alleged failure to act on sexual abuse by a team doctor when Jordan was a wrestling coach at Ohio state. Jordan denies wrongdoing.

Gaetz is reportedly being investigated for alleged sex trafficking involving an underaged woman, other alleged payments for sex and drug use, and possible influence trading with representatives from the medical marijuana industry.

He denies all wrongdoing and has said he will not resign. But his outlook clouded on Friday when a former associate indicated he would plead guilty in court in Florida on Monday to charges including paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl.

Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole county tax collector, did not name other men in his plea agreement but he is thought likely to help prosecutors investigating Gaetz.

Also on Friday, the Daily Beast cited two sources who said a woman the website said Greenberg will identify as having been paid for sex accompanied Gaetz to a “cocaine-fueled party” after a fundraiser in Orlando in 2019. The website also said the woman secured a “taxpayer-funded no-show job” through her connection to Greenberg.

A public relations firm hired by Gaetz told the Beast he would not comment, but “the privacy of women living private lives should be protected”.

Republican House leaders have not taken action against Gaetz. On Saturday, the congressman spoke at the Ohio Political Summit, a Republican event in suburban Cleveland.

“I’m being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors,” Gaetz said. “Yet Congress has re-instituted a process that legalises the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that’s the corruption.”

Earmarks have been absent from Congress for a decade but both parties now support their use. Some observers say earmarks promote bipartisan co-operation.

Gaetz also took a shot at another Ohio Republican congressman, Anthony Gonzalez.

“Is it likely that the Anthony Gonzalez congressional career might mirror the Anthony Gonzalez NFL career?” Gaetz asked. “Whole lot of hype, first-round draft pick, out in four years.”

Gonzalez was a wide receiver who spent five years with the Indianapolis Colts, who made him the 32nd and last pick in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He also had a brief spell with the New England Patriots. He was not at the event in Cleveland but he appeared to rebuke his colleague, if obliquely, on Twitter.

“Ending child exploitation remains one of my top policy initiatives in Congress,” Gonzalez tweeted. “Anyone engaged in these heinous acts needs to be held accountable and taken off the streets.”

At the event in Ohio, Gaetz received a standing ovation.