It was just two days ago that rumors of Rep. Matt Gaetz bowing out early to take a gig on Fox also-ran Newsmax first appeared. In those two days, the story has added suspicions of sex trafficking, claims of extortion by a former Department of Justice official, a scheme to extract a presumed-dead hostage from Iran, word that Bill Barr was actively avoiding being photographed with Gaetz, and an interview that even Tucker Carlson found bizarre. It’s become clear that Trump’s favorite congressman wasn’t so much hankering for more time in the media limelight, as looking to dodge an emerging scandal. It didn’t work.
As has been widely reported at this point, Gaetz is under investigation for an affair he is believed to have had with a 17-year-old girl. It’s unclear exactly what crime Gaetz might be charged with, but since it appears he paid for the girl to travel across state lines for the purposes of sex, federal sex trafficking charges could definitely be in the offing. Gaetz has denied being involved with a 17-year-old, though he did admit on Fox to paying for flights and hotel rooms for people he was “dating.”
It’s clear that Gaetz wasn’t completely taken by surprise as the story emerged in the media. ABC News reports that the Florida representative began visiting big name D.C. area law firms weeks ago—and was turned down as a client by at least one major firm. The reason for Gaetz’s frantic legal search appears to be related to a scheme that promised to take care of this little investigation … if Gaetz would slide over $25 million. Gaetz has called it extortion by the DOJ, but as details emerge, it appears to be simply a scam by someone who knew he had Gaetz’s very large head by the very short hairs.
As The Washington Post reports, Gaetz had already been under investigation for months when two men paid a call on the representative’s father, former Florida state senator Don Gaetz. The men informed the elder Gaetz that his son was in legal hot water, but offered to get him out—if Geetz senior would provide $25 million to fund a rescue operation for Robert Levinson.
Levinson is a former DEA and FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 while on a mission for the Bush-era CIA. (Levinson apparently tagged every base in the intelligence community.) Following Levinson’s disappearance, the CIA paid his family $2.5 million to essentially stop asking questions. It’s believed that Levinson, who had a number of serious health issues, was captured by the Iranian government, and his family was supposedly given “proof of life” in a 2010 video. In 2013, the Obama administration said that bringing Levinson home remained a high priority. However, in March of 2020, both his family and the CIA agreed that Levinson was likely dead. He would have been 72.
However, the men who approached Don Gaetz don’t seem to have been put off by something as picayune as death. And considering the supposed transcript of messages they sent, rationality also wasn’t an issue. “I would like to talk to you immediately about the current federal investigation, and the indictment that is about to be filed against your son,” reads the first of these notes. The messages go on to insist that the men have proof that Levinson is alive, and that, should the elder Gaetz fund their rescue effort, they will give all the credit to Matt. “I will ensure that Matt is onboard the plane that delivers Levinson to his family,” reads the note, “making him the most sought after figure in the world for his efforts to obtain Levinson’s release.” But that’s only the first part of what the note promises. In addition to turning Gaetz into the world’s sweetheart, “my partner will see to that Matt receives a presidential pardon, thus alleviating all his legal issues.”
So, the two men are promising that if Gaetz’s father will hand them $25 million for secretly retrieving a CIA agent thought to be dead, making it look as if Matt Gaetz was somehow behind the rescue, and then securing a pardon from President Joe Biden. The scheme extended to a folio that detailed a plan for “Project Homecoming” that was presented to Don Gaetz.
This is the scheme that Rep. Gaetz has describing as “organized criminal extortion.” What it appears to be is simply a scam. The men behind the Levinson scheme learned of the investigation into Gaetz and then attempted to profit by it. Which is certainly a crime … but doesn’t suggest at all that the investigation into Gaetz was either for purposes of extortion or politics. One of the men was apparently former Air Force intelligence analyst Bob Kent. The other, if there really is another, hasn’t been named.
The men who attempted to scam Gaetz’s father apparently have no relationship to the investigation into his reported travels with an underage girl. Though the DOJ had not gone public about potential charges, it’s not hard to see how the information might have leaked. The investigation was apparently going on for months in 2020, including briefings of former attorney general Bill Barr. Barr reportedly took care not to be photographed with Gaetz at White House gatherings.
All of this was happening even as Vanity Fair was reporting on how high Gaetz was rising in MAGA-circles. Gaetz himself bragged that he and Trump were “buddies,” saying that Trump called frequently just to check up on him. Republicans lined up at the 2020 CPAC gathering for selfies with Gaetz, while calling him a “hero” and a “superstar.”
It’s also worth noting that, while this investigation was apparently well underway, Gaetz published a book giving his political insights. Included in that book are his rules for dating.
“I knew going in how many people had been brought down by sexual missteps in this town, so I set some rules to help me err on the safe(r) side. In Washington, safe sex means in part: no dating lobbyists, no dating your staff members, and I should have added no dating reporters, but I didn’t at first.”
It seems as if Gaetz may have left out one rule.