WASHINGTON – Florida's two Republican senators are steering clear of voicing support for Rep. Matt Gaetz, branding sex trafficking accusations against him serious but calling it premature to say what should happen to their fellow Floridian and GOP lawmaker.
The remarks by Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott were the latest cautious comments about Gaetz by Republicans, who have mostly taken neutral stances or said nothing about him. Federal agents are scrutinizing Gaetz over allegations that include sex with a minor, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they could not discuss details publicly.
A frequent face on conservative television outlets and an ardent ally of former President Donald Trump, Gaetz has broadly denied the accusations and not been charged with any crimes.
“Sure, and I don’t think anyone’s saying they’re not," Rubio said Tuesday when a reporter suggested the allegations are serious. “And he’s pretty firm in his denial, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out." Rubio said he's not spoken with Gaetz since news of the investigation emerged late last month.
On Monday, Scott said Gaetz faces “pretty serious allegations” but didn’t say what should happen to him. “I think we’ve got to get all the facts,” Scott said.
Both senators are considered potential 2024 presidential hopefuls. They spoke as lawmakers were returning from a two-week Easter recess, with many confronting questions about Gaetz for the first time.
Asked for comment Tuesday after returning to Washington for a vote, Gaetz referred reporters to a column he wrote last week saying he had not paid for sex and accusing his critics of being corrupt.
Few GOP lawmakers have voiced support for Gaetz, who has said he will not resign. Trump issued a brief statement last week that said Gaetz “has totally denied the accusations against him.”
The three-term lawmaker is also the focus of a bipartisan investigation by the House Ethics Committee of accusations including sexual misconduct, illegal drug use, spending campaign funds for personal use and accepting a bribe or impermissible gift. The committee has provided no additional detail.
Gaetz, 38, became engaged on New Year’s Eve at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound in Florida.
On Tuesday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said a local GOP organization should cancel plans for Gaetz to be keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner in August.
“I’m surprised the Committee hasn’t already done so,” Sununu, who is considering running for Senate in 2022, said in a statement. “I certainly will not attend an event headlined by Representative Gaetz.”
On Sunday, No. 3 House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming called the accusations against Gaetz “sickening" but didn't suggest he should resign. Gaetz has called for Cheney's defeat after she was among 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump's House impeachment in January.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., last week became the first GOP member of Congress to say Gaetz should surrender his House seat, tweeting, “Matt Gaetz needs to resign.” Kinzinger, a frequent Trump critic, also voted to impeach Trump in January on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Gaetz and other Florida Republicans and political allies are being examined as part of a broad public corruption inquiry by federal investigators that began months ago, people familiar with the probe have said.
Prosecutors are said to be examining whether Gaetz and Joel Greenberg, a former county tax official, paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex.
One person said investigators were looking at trips Gaetz and other men took and whether women were paid or received gifts to have sex with them or later received government jobs.
It was also revealed in a Florida court last week that Greenberg was working toward a plea deal that might mean he would provide prosecutors with information about the congressman. Greenburg pleaded not guilty to charges including child sex trafficking and fraud.
Associated Press writer Holly Ramer contributed to this report from Manchester, N.H.