Despite Tucker Carlson’s promise of uninformed questions and a platform for Rep. Matt Gaetz to “give us his view” of a federal sex-trafficking investigation he’s the subject of, Gaetz managed to blow it.
Carlson opened by signaling to viewers he was on Gaetz’s side
Carlson opened his show last night with this sympathetic statement with a lie that suggested The New York Times’ reporting on Gaetz is not to be trusted:
CARLSON: You may have seen just an hour or two ago that The New York Times essentially accused Congressman Matt Gaetz of sex trafficking. We don't have any background on this story. Gaetz says it's a smear and a shakedown and he joins us on the show in just a minute with his side of the story.
FACT CHECK: As you'll see below, The Times did not accuse Gaetz of sex trafficking, it reported he is the subject of a federal investigation. The Times also noted that Gaetz is the subject, not the target, of the investigation.
Then after forays into some of his favorite white nationalist topics - his conspiracy theory that COVID-19 came from a Chinese lab and a chat with pro-death Brit Hume defending Georgia’s new voter suppression law that outlaws providing food or water for people waiting to vote (the law disadvantages people of color) - Carlson got to Gaetz.
Carlson repeated his suggestion that Gaetz, not The Times, would be treated as the more trusted source:
CARLSON: Just a couple of hours ago, late this afternoon, The New York Times ran a story saying that Florida Congressman, Matt Gaetz is under federal investigation for playing some role in sex trafficking, and potentially having a relationship with a 17-year-old girl. There are very few details in major news outlets tonight about this story. We have no background on it at all, and not even any very informed questions.
Instead, we've invited Congressman Gaetz on the show to respond to these stories, and give us his view of them.
Congressman, thanks so much for coming on. Appreciate it. So this is obviously a serious allegation. Tell us what the truth is, from your perspective.
Yet even with all that help, it did not go well for Gaetz.
The allegations against Gaetz
Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.
The three people said that the examination of Mr. Gaetz, 38, is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl.
Mr. Greenberg, who has since resigned his post as tax collector in Seminole County, north of Orlando, visited the White House with Mr. Gaetz in 2019, according to a photograph that Mr. Greenberg posted on Twitter.
Sleazy and crooked doesn’t seem to begin to describe Greenberg, as Rachel Maddow laid out in shocking detail last night (video is below), based on public reporting.
Yet, Carlson never asked Gaetz about this creep, even though Gaetz endorsed Greenberg for a potential Congressional run in 2017.
Gaetz plays the victim
Gaetz told Carlson a weird tale but provided no evidence to the obviously friendly Carlson. First, he seemed to parse his words.
GAETZ: It is a horrible allegation and it is a lie. The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman and that is verifiably false. People can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case.
Then he suggested it was part of a DOJ extortion plot against him, beginning on March 16th. But The Times reported that the investigation was opened “in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr.” In other words, well before March 16th. Carlson didn't mention it.
GAETZ: What is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official.
On March 16th, my father got a text message demanding a meeting, wherein a person demanded $25 million in exchange for making horrible sex trafficking allegations against me go away.
Our family was so troubled by that, we went to the local F.B.I. and the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice were so concerned about 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.
Tonight, I am demanding that the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. release the audio recordings that were made under their supervision and at their direction, which will prove my innocence and it will show that these allegations aren't true. They're merely intended to try to bleed my family out of money.
And 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's 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 current D.O.J. being brought to justice for trying to extort me and my family.
Instead of probing the allegation or asking for corroborating information, Carlson asked for the name of the former DOJ employee, no doubt setting him up for harassment, despite Carlson’s repeated claims to know nothing about the matter.
CARLSON: So a couple of obvious questions that come to mind, and again, just to restate, this just happened, I don't have any other information beyond what we've already said and you have said.
Who -- first of all, who is this Department of Justice former employee who is trying to extort the money from you, you say?
After Gaetz named the former employer as David McGee and revealed his place of work, Carlson immediately moved to demonize him:
CARLSON: So you're -- and I'll get to the investigation in a second, but you're saying the David McGee was motivated by greed. He was trying to extort money from your family. That's his motivation, you're saying?
Gaetz bizarrely claimed that McGee and cohorts were promising that Joe Biden would pardon Gaetz if he paid up. Gaetz also said he didn’t want a pardon because he did nothing wrong but that he is really “troubled by is the real motivation for all of this.”
Then he pretended to be above partisan smear tactics.
GAETZ: You know just tonight, Ted Lieu, a Democrat is calling on me to be removed from the House Judiciary Committee. And I believe we are in an era of our politics now, Tucker, where people are smeared to try to take them out of the conversation.
Gaetz should have stopped there. Because Carlson would almost surely have jumped at the chance to make Lieu and Democrats the bigger villains. Instead, Gaetz made what was probably a fatal mistake in keeping Carlson on his side.
Gaetz’s failed effort to make common cause with Carlson over sex-crime-accusations
It’s probably a testament to Gaetz’s fear about the situation that he tried to suggest he and Carlson are sex-crime-accusation-victim buddies:
GAETZ: I'm not the only person on screen right now who has been falsely accused of a terrible sex act. You were accused of something that you did not do, and so you know what this feels like. You know, the pain it can bring to your family. And you know, how it just puts people on defense when you're accused of something so salacious and awful.
But it did not happen. It is not true. And the fact that it is the basis of this attempt to extort my family tell us a lot. And if the F.B.I. and Department of Justice will release the tapes that they are in possession of, the American people will see what is really going on.
CARLSON: 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. But I do agree with you that being accused falsely is one of the worst things that can happen and you do see it a lot.
Let's go back to the investigation. You say that it was or is underway. There was an investigation. What is the basis of that investigation? What is the allegation? That is really not very clear from these news stories.
Gaetz dragged in Carlson again, rather than discuss the allegation.
GAETZ: Yes, again, 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, and I brought a friend of mine, you'll remember her and she was actually threatened by the F.B.I., 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.
And so I do believe that there are people at the Department of Justice, who are trying to smear me, you know, providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you're dating, who are of legal age is not a crime and I'm just troubled that the lack of any sort of legitimate investigation into me would then permute -- would then convert into this extortion attempt.
CARLSON: I don't remember the woman you're speaking of or the context at all, honestly, but I would like to know who -- so they're saying there is a 17-year-old girl who you had a relationship with? Is that true? And who is this girl? What are they talking about, The New York Times?
GAETZ: 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 traveled with some 17-year-old in some relationship. That is false and records will bear that out to be false.
CARLSON: How long has this investigation been going on, do you know?
GAETZ: I don't know.
CARLSON: When were you first informed of it?
GAETZ: You know, again, I really saw this as a deeply troubling challenge for my family on March 16th when people were, you know, talking about a minor, and that there were pictures of me with child prostitutes. That's obviously false. There will be no such pictures because no such thing happened.
But really, on March 16th was when this got going from the extortion standpoint.
Gaetz seemed to be acting cagey there, not saying when he was first informed of the investigation but deflecting to the “deeply troubling challenge for my family on March 16th.”
Meanwhile, Gaetz seemed to have lost Carlson:
CARLSON: So what happens next? I mean, you say there is this investigation, I guess, a criminal investigation. I'm not quite sure where the sex trafficking part comes in. I don't, again for the fifth time, I don't really understand the story very well. But where does it go from here? I mean, you've made an allegation against someone by name on the air and accused him of trying to extort millions of dollars from your family. What happens tomorrow?
Gaetz claimed that “what needs to happen next” is the FBI and the DOJ must release the tapes in their possession that will supposedly show his innocence and that “the whole concept of sex charges against me was really just a way to try to bleed my family out of money and probably smear my name because I am a well-known outspoken conservative and I guess that's out of style in a lot of parts of the country right now.”
Carlson ended the interview.
But following a break, he added a postscript:
CARLSON: You just saw our Matt Gaetz interview. 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 as a deeply interesting story and we'll be following it. I don't quite understand it, but we'll bring you more when we find out.
I guarantee you that Carlson will NOT be bringing more of the story unless Gaetz can come up with proof of his innocence and/or DOJ wrongdoing. Otherwise, Fox will cover it as little as possible.
Gaetz would probably never seek my advice but as a veteran Fox News observer, I would have recommended he go on the Hannity show instead of Tucker Carlson Tonight. Sean Hannity will steadfastly advocate for any Republican in trouble. Carlson, on the other hand, is not a knee-jerk loyalist like Hannity but is more loyal to his personal politics. I will make another prediction: that any further Gaetz appearances on the subject will be with Hannity. That is unless Hannity wants nothing to do with him or this story right now.
You can watch the whole weird saga below, from the March 30, 2021 Tucker Carlson Tonight. Underneath is Rachel Maddow’s must-see dive into Joel Greenberg, the sleaze who led prosecutors to Gaetz (I’ll bet Greenberg snitched on Gaetz), from MSNBC’s March 30, 2021 The Rachel Maddow Show.
Gaetz has regularly behaved like an angry bully in Congress, and in his appearances on Right Wing propaganda outlets like Fox News. His attitude has been consistent with that of the angry fraternity member who gets rebuffed by a sorority girl at a party and then screams at her “I never liked you anyway!” It’s not a surprise to learn that he has regularly engaged in relationships with young women below the age of 20, even when he was nearly twice their age – and that’s without getting into the details of the current investigation. It sounds like the situation in question was part of a behavioral pattern for him, and a fairly creepy one at that. And he sounds desperate to keep it from getting out. Downright panicked, if we’re really examining it carefully.
Fox News will have a choice to make here. They really like Gaetz, because he says all the things they like and he does it with all the aggression they like. But will they be willing to support him throughout a potential career implosion like this one? Or do they just move along to the next angry Right Wing congressman who isn’t preying on minors?