Gaetz: No, seriously, I'm being extorted -- and here's one of the people behind it

Has Matt Gaetz been targeted in a politically motivated smear campaign — or has the congressman decided that the best defense is a good offense? Or both? Last night, Gaetz slammed the New York Times for its report on an alleged sex-trafficking investigation focused on his alleged travel with a 17-year-old girl. In an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Gaetz accused former Department of Justice officer David McGee as the man behind the extortion attempt, and warned that other members of Congress could be next:

Rep. Matt Gaetz named the former Justice Department official he claims is trying to extort $25 million from his family.

David McGee, an attorney with Beggs & Lane, is the man the Florida Republican named during an appearance Tuesday evening on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in which he responded to reports that he is under federal investigation over a former relationship.

McGee served for six years as the first assistant at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and for seven years as the lead attorney for the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Task Force, according to his biography on the website of his law firm, which is based in Pensacola, Florida.

For his part, McGee denied taking part in any extortion plot. Instead, McGee told the Daily Beast, Gaetz was using him as a distraction from the sex-trafficking allegations:

In an interview with The Daily Beast late Tuesday night, McGee said any reports of extortion involving him or his firm were “completely, totally false.”

“This is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that Matt Gaetz is apparently about to be indicted for sex trafficking underage girls,” McGee said.

Before the Fox interview Tuesday night, Gaetz used his Twitter to call on the Justice Department to “immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.”

When asked how long, and in what ways, he had been cooperating with the feds, the MAGA congressman simply texted The Daily Beast on Tuesday night, “March 16 first extortion text was sent.” He did not immediately reply to follow-up messages seeking clarification.

That timing might be a problem for Gaetz, though. One of the NYT reporters on the story corroborates McGee, at least to the extent of being involved in the investigation. Katie Brenner tells Rachel Maddow that the probe didn’t just begin two weeks ago but has been ongoing for several months, having started during the Trump administration. William Barr personally approved it, Brenner claims, and then wonders why Gaetz would “blow up” any FBI probe into an extortion attempt by revealing its details — such as his father wearing a wire:

On one hand, it’s pretty easy to see why Gaetz went public with any extortion investigation. If it’s true that he’s being extorted, he wants to clear his name publicly ASAP, not sit around waiting for the FBI to rescue him. And again assuming Gaetz is telling the truth, he has to wonder who leaked the news of of the one probe without leaking the whole story — and why. That’s a question I asked on Twitter last night when the NYT story dropped, since the DoJ and FBI aren’t supposed to leak news about ongoing investigations. That leak certainly looks like it had a purpose.

On the other hand, Gaetz’ other reactions have sent some mixed signals. Almost immediately, Gaetz issued statements of denial, coupled with claims of his “generosity” as a boyfriend in covering travel costs for his dates. He also mentions his generosity in this interview with Carlson, which sounds a bit like an eventual defense being constructed behind the offense: I swear I didn’t know she was underage! And earlier in the day, rumors began swirling that Gaetz wanted to retire in exchange for a plum on-air position at Newsmax — a strange idea for a three-term sitting congressman to contemplate, especially one with as much apparent ambition as Gaetz has demonstrated until now.

With all that in mind, watch Carlson’s reaction to Gaetz’ offensive here. He seems a bit confused by Gaetz’ claims, and when Gaetz attempts to get Carlson to corroborate a tangential point, Carlson demurs. Gaetz again sticks with the March 16 date on the extortion attempt, and finishes by demanding the FBI go fully public with everything it has in that probe. Carlson doesn’t seem convinced at the end, although he remains polite and gracious. Given the timing of everything surrounding Gaetz at the moment, it’s tough to be convinced of anything — yet.