Fox News host Tucker Carlson has described his on-air conversation with Matt Gaetz as the “weirdest interview I’ve ever conducted” after the Republican congressman sought to dispel allegations of sexual trafficking made against him.
Gaetz is facing allegations that include a possible sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, paying the individual to travel with him and transporting a minor over state lines for sexual activity, The New York Times reported citing anonymous sources on Tuesday.
The newspaper reported that Gaetz was merely a subject of a broader investigation into Joel Greenberg, a former-tax collector in Florida and a supporter of the congressman who was indicted on charges involving child sex trafficking last summer.
Within hours of the article’s publication, Gaetz denied the allegations and accused a former justice department official of trying to extort his family to make the investigation go away as he spoke to Carlson live on Fox.
After the interview, Carlson said: “That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted. That story just appeared in the news a couple of hours ago, and on the certainty that there’s always more than you read in the newspaper, we immediately called Matt Gaetz and asked him to come on and tell us more. Which, as you saw, he did. I don’t think that clarified much, but it certainly showed this is a deeply interesting story and we’ll be following it.”
In a statement to Newsweek on Tuesday, Gaetz, who has no charges against him, reiterated what he told Carlson, saying: “No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation.”
What Gaetz said during his Carlson interview
Carlson began by asking Gaetz to respond to the story and the congressman said: “It is a horrible allegation and a lie.”
Gaetz also said the allegations that he travelled with a 17-year-old is a “verifiable lie,” adding: “People can look at my travel records and see that is not the case.”
He then claimed that the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) are carrying out an investigation into an attempt to extort his family.
He said: “What is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former justice department official. On March 15, my father got a text message demanding a meeting wherein a person demanded $25 million in exchange in making horrible sex trafficking allegations against me go away.
“Our family was so troubled by that, that we went to the local FBI. The FBI and the Department of Justice were so concerned by this attempted extortion of a member of Congress that they asked my dad to wear a wire, which he did with the former Department of Justice official.”
Gaetz said he is now calling on the FBI and DOJ to release these audio recordings “that prove my innocence and that will show that these allegations aren’t true but are merely intended to bleed my family out of money.”
The congressman also suggested that the story was leaked to The New York Times in a bid to thwart the extortion investigation.
He said: “This former Department of Justice official tomorrow was supposed to be contacted by my father so that specific instructions could be given regarding the wiring of $4.5 million as a down payment on this bribe.
“I don’t think it is a coincidence that tonight somehow The New York Times is leaking this information, smearing me and ruining the investigation that would likely result in one of the former colleagues of the DOJ being brought to justice for trying to extort me and my family.”
After naming this former DOJ official, Gaetz went on to say that he, along with his “co-conspirators,” were demanding money in exchange for a commitment to make the investigation go away.
Gaetz said: “They even claimed to have specific connections inside the Biden White house. Now I don’t know if that’s true. They were promising that Joe Biden would pardon me. Obviously, I don’t need a pardon. I’m not seeking a pardon. I have not done anything improper or wrong.
The congressman also suggested that the allegations and the New York Times story were part of an attempt to smear and silence him.
He said: “What I am troubled by is the real motivation for all of this. Just tonight, Ted Lieu, a Democrat, is calling on me to be removed from the house judiciary committee. We are in an area of our politics now, Tucker, where people are smeared to take them out of the conversation.”
He later suggested that this is all part of a smear campaign, “because I’m a well-known outspoken conservative and I guess that’s out of style in a lot of the country right now.”
In what appeared to be an attempt to relate his situation to Carlson, Gaetz also brought up the fact that the Fox host faced a false accusation of rape two decades ago.
Gaetz said: “I’m not the only person on screen that has been falsely accused of a terrible sex act. You were accused of something that you did not do. So you know what this feels like. You know the pain that it can bring to your family. It just puts people on defence when you’re accused of something so salacious and awful. But it did not happen. It is not true. The fact that it is the basis of an attempt to extort my family tells a lot.”
Carlson replied saying: “You just referred to a mentally ill viewer who accused me of a sex crime 20 years ago. And of course, it was not true. I never met the person.”
He then added: “I do agree with you that being accused falsely is one of the worst things that can ever happen,” before asking Gaetz about the allegations against him and the basis of the original investigation.
Gaetz said: “I only know what I’ve read in The New York Times. I can say that actually you and I went to dinner about two years ago. Your wife was there. I brought a friend of mine. You’ll remember her and she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay for play scheme that she could face trouble.”
Carlson responded by saying: “I don’t remember the woman you are speaking of or the context at all, honestly.”
He then asked Gaetz if it was true that he’d had a relationship with a 17-year-old to which the congressman replied: “The person doesn’t exist. I have not had a relationship with a 17-year-old. That is totally false.
“The allegation as I read it in The New York Times is that I’ve travelled with some 17-year-old in some relationship. That is false and records will bare it out to be false.”
Gaetz was unable to answer how long the investigation had been going on but said that March 16 was when the alleged extortion scheme came to his attention.