Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz was absent from social media and cable news on Wednesday.
What You Need To Know
- Published reports say Gaetz is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations involving sex trafficking and prostitution
- UCF professor says Gaetz "really seeks out to try to get media attention"
- His office did respond to a request for comment Wednesday
- PREVIOUS: GOP Rep. Gaetz Investigated Over Sexual Relationship
The media blackout comes as CNN is reporting that Gaetz is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations involving sex trafficking and prostitution.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that federal investigators are examining whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, an allegation that the Panhandle Republican has vehemently denied, saying that his family was part of an alleged extortion plot organized by a former federal prosecutor (Gaetz' father, former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz agrees, telling POLITICO that he has been working with the FBI to prove the extortion claims).
University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett says that previous to these allegations, Gaetz provocative behavior on cable and in social media has helped make him a conservative rock star, and by far the best-known member of Florida’s congressional House delegation.
“He thrives with publicity. He really seeks out to try to get media attention,” says Jewett. “He did that to some degree when he was in the state Legislature, but he has really upped his game so to speak in terms of media attraction since he has been in Congress.”
“Matt is an intelligent, capable guy, and he’s always been a show dog. He always wants to be the center of attention,” adds former longtime Florida GOP political strategist Mac Stipanovich, who says he knows Gaetz well.
“That makes him a provocateur. Or what’s called I think in modern parlance on social media ‘a troll.’ He’s a professional troll. He loves to set himself on fire and the see the fire on television,” Stipanovich says, referring to Gaetz media events (some call them “stunts”) like going out to Wyoming to trash fellow GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, wearing a gas mask on the floor of the House to mock concerns about COVID-19 or entering a secure facility on Capitol Hill to delay a deposition hearing in the first impeachment inquiry against Trump.
Gaetz’ comments haven’t just provoked Democrats over the years. Pinellas County GOP state Rep. Chris Latvala and Gaetz engaged in a major feud on Twitter a year ago. And Chris’s father, former state Sen. Jack Latvala, blasted Gaetz back in 2015 for a tweet that was considered racist.
Although hewing to a traditional conservative ideology, Jewett notes that Gaetz has demonstrated a libertarian streak at times, perhaps most noted for his strong support for medical marijuana.
“On at least some social issues, he has been more libertarian, and so that does distinguish him at least ideologically and policy wise, probably from the mainstream of the Republican Party,” Jewett says.
Before the NY Times story broke on Tuesday, the biggest story about Gaetz had been a report by Axios that he was “seriously considering” leaving Congress to work for the conservative cable news network Newsmax.
Spectrum Bay News 9 did reach out to Gaetz’ office today for comment, but our call was not returned.