TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Rep. Matt Gaetz’s father, Don, a former Florida Senate president, said he is working with the FBI, including wearing a wire on more than one occasion as part of an investigation into an alleged extortion plot that the pair said was organized by former federal prosecutor David McGee.
“The FBI asked me to try and get that information for Matt and an indication we would transfer money to Mr. David McGee,” Don Gaetz said in an interview late Tuesday, without specifying what information he was referring to.
McGee, who is now in private practice with a Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm, did not respond to a POLITICO request seeking comment, but told other media outlets there is no truth to the alleged extortion plot.
Don Gaetz said in the interview he wore a wire during a meeting earlier this month with McGee and said he was set to meet Wednesday with Stephen Alford, a local developer who he said is also part of the alleged extortion scheme. During that meeting, Don Gaetz said, he was again set to wear a wire and try to get Alford to talk about payments he allegedly was to make to McGee, but the meeting fell apart when news broke that his son was being investigated by the Justice Department. Alford did not respond to text messages seeking comment.
In separate interviews, Don and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) acknowledged a Justice Department probe involving the younger Gaetz, 38, into whether he had improper involvement with a 17-year-old girl. The Gaetzes say they are the target of an extortion plot seeking money to keep the DOJ investigation quiet.
The allegations dropped as the younger Gaetz’s profile has been rising. The Donald Trump devotee rode the former president’s coattails into prominence and frequent conservative media appearances during Trump’s presidency after having been elected to Congress in 2016. While his name is frequently on lists for higher office, Axios reported this week that Gaetz has considered leaving Congress to take a job at conservative news outlet Newsmax.
Matt Gaetz denied any involvement with the teen. The New York Times on Tuesday reported that the Justice Department was investigating whether the lawmaker had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and had paid for her to travel with him across state lines. He told the Times he is the subject but not the target of the DOJ investigation.
Those actions could violate federal sex trafficking laws, according to The Times, which cited three people briefed on the matter. Gaetz has not been charged with any crime.
Then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the Gaetz probe and did not take issue with it, a source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
Barr and the Office of the Attorney General received multiple briefings on the Gaetz probe, beginning in the summer of 2020, a second person familiar with the probe said. They encouraged Florida prosecutors to move as quickly as they needed to and take whatever steps were appropriate. The briefings were consistent with Barr’s memo requiring notification to department leadership on probes of candidates. The briefing was important because — among other reasons — Barr didn’t want to accidentally appear anywhere with Gaetz, the person said. At one point, Barr was scheduled for a meet-and-greet with Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. But DOJ canceled his appearance at the event when they saw that Gaetz, a member of that committee, had RSVP’d for it.
FBI spokesperson Tina Jagerson declined to comment on the probe.
Don Gaetz said he asked his attorney, Jeffrey Neiman, to keep in contact with David Goldberg, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, so there was evidence he was working with the feds. Neiman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Through spokesperson Andrea Clark, Goldberg declined to comment, citing office policy.
"We can neither confirm nor deny the existence or status of an investigation, nor can we offer comment at this time," Clark said. "We appreciate you reaching out, and I’m sorry I can’t be of more help."
“I said to the FBI ‘I’m willing to wear a wire and be cooperative,’ but I was asked to say things that are not true to draw out an admission,” Don Gaetz said in the interview. “I wanted there to be an understanding committed in writing that I’m working for the FBI and at their request, not operating on my own.”
From most of his 10 years in the Florida Senate, Don Gaetz was the chamber’s richest member. His wealth comes from having a pioneering role in the hospice industry. In the late 1970s, Gaetz formed Hospice Care Inc., a nonprofit hospice facility. He then became a leading force behind passage of Florida’s hospice licensing law, which gave nonprofits like the one he founded an early head start over for-profit facilities.
In March 25 emails between Neiman and Goldberg that Matt Gaetz shared with POLITICO, Don Gaetz’s cooperation was discussed and confirmed.
“I can confirm that your client is working with my office as well as the FBI at the government’s request in order to determine if a federal crime has been committed,” read an email from Goldberg to Neiman. “This has been discussed with, and approved by, the FBI as well as leadership in my office and components of main justice.”
“The government thanks you for working cooperatively with the FBI,” the email concludes.
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