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The US House Ethics Committee is investigating Republican Gaetz

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks during a hearing in Washington

From Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratically controlled ethics committee of the US House of Representatives said Friday it had opened an investigation into Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, which included allegations of possible sexual misconduct and illegal drug use.

The Democratic chairman of the panel and the top Republican said in a joint statement that they had “become aware of public allegations” that Gaetz, one of the most prominent supporters of former President Donald Trump in Congress, may violate “house rules, laws or other standards of conduct.” have violated. “”

According to a US law enforcement agency that spoke on condition of anonymity, Gaetz is being investigated by the US Department of Justice for possible violations of sex trafficking laws by paying travel expenses for a 17-year-old woman with whom he was romantically involved.

The Florida congressman has not been charged with any criminal offense and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Ethics committee leaders said the allegations included whether Gaetz “may have committed sexual misconduct and / or illegal drug use, shared inappropriate pictures or videos on the floor of the house, misused government identification records, converted and / or accepted campaign funds for personal use.” Bribe, inappropriate gratuity, or improper gift. “

Gaetz’s office responded in a statement: “Once again, the office will repeat, these claims are obviously false and have not been confirmed by a single person willing to leave their name behind.”

At a “Save America Summit” at the Trump National Doral Resort in Miami on Friday, Gaetz said that “wild conspiracy theories” were being used to smear him.

“I’m built for battle and I’m not going anywhere,” said Gaetz.

The summit was organized by a pro-Trump group called Women for America First. This group also organized a rally near the White House on January 6, which preceded the deadly rampage by a pro-Trump mob in the U.S. Capitol.

Previously, Representative Adam Kinzinger was the first Congress Republican to call on Gaetz to resign.

“Matt Gaetz has to resign,” said Kinzinger, an outspoken critic of Trump, in a Twitter post on Thursday evening.

A friend of Gaetz, a former Florida county tax collector named Joel Greenberg, is said to have pleaded guilty to a sex trafficking and fraud case in federal court in Florida, officials said Thursday.

Greenberg’s lawyer Fritz Scheller told reporters on Thursday: “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very well today.” Scheller may have been referring to media reports that Greenberg may be working with federal investigators on the Gaetz investigation.

Two New York defense lawyers confirmed on Friday that they had been hired by Gaetz.

“Matt has always been a fighter … and he will stand up to the baseless allegations against him. His legal team, led by Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner, will fight those who try to cover his name with lies . ” said a statement on behalf of Erin Elmore’s attorneys of the Logan Circle Group.

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Steven Gregory