Few in GOP rush to defend Gaetz amid sex trafficking probe

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FILE - In this July 29, 2020 file photo Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust on Capitol Hill in Washington. Federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and a political ally who is facing sex trafficking allegations may have paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday, April 2, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – The political peril for conservative Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz deepened Friday as the often outlandish, Trump-styled provocateur appeared politically isolated amid a federal sex-trafficking investigation.

Few Republicans rushed to offer any kind of support to the three-term Florida congressman known for espousing high-volume attacks — sometimes against those in his own party — during his frequent media appearances. Several GOP lawmakers and top aides who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive situation said Gaetz's prospects for remaining in Congress were bleak and were complicated in particular by his unpopularity among colleagues in his own party.

Federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and a political ally who is facing sex trafficking allegations may have paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday.

The scrutiny of Gaetz stemmed from the Justice Department’s probe into the political ally, Joel Greenberg, the people said. Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, was indicted last year and is accused of a number of federal crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.

Republican congressional leaders have largely been silent about the investigation, which continues.

That reflected the serious nature of the charges in a story that seems to add new elements by the day, giving lawmakers little motivation to attach themselves to Gaetz.

In one potentially ominous sign, Gaetz spokesman Luke Ball has resigned, according to one Republican who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Part of the investigation is examining whether Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old and other underage girls and violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people familiar with the probe told the AP. Federal agents suspect Greenberg may have enticed the girls and then introduced some of them to Gaetz, and they are examining whether both men may have had sex with the same girls, the people said.