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Republicans keep their distance from Matt Gaetz

It’s been one week since the federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz burst into the public sphere, and almost all of Gaetz’s colleagues in the House Republican conference are keeping quiet.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he’d speak to Gaetz about the matter, though it’s not clear that’s happened. The Republicans Gaetz has attacked are keeping their powder dry amid the ongoing investigation. And even former President Donald Trump hasn’t defended one of his staunchest allies in the House.

Trump brought up the Gaetz situation in a recent conversation with an ally, talking as if he was gently fishing about whether he should weigh in. The response was that he should stay as far away from it as he could, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

The collective silence surrounding the Gaetz investigation is both a sign of the seriousness of the allegations under investigation and a reminder that much of the House GOP conference doesn’t appreciate the Florida Republican’s antics.

Investigators are examining whether Gaetz broke federal sex trafficking and prostitution laws, including whether he had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl. No charges have been filed and Gaetz has denied the allegations. Gaetz has also faced criticism following CNN’s report that he showed off nude photos and videos of women, including while he was on the House floor.

Gaetz’s support — or lack thereof — among his fellow Republicans may ultimately not matter, as Gaetz has said he’s not resigning and denied any wrongdoing. On Tuesday, Gaetz even sent a fundraising email to his supporters off of the reports about the DOJ investigation, claiming in the email, “A brand-new smear campaign has been launched against me, but I am fighting back to expose the truth.”

Gaetz will make his first public appearance Friday since last week’s interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, when he will speak at a Women for America First event being held at the former President’s Trump National Doral Miami Golf Resort.

But with few friends on Capitol Hill, Gaetz could face pressure within the conference once Congress returns from its recess next week and Republicans will inevitably face questions from reporters about the matter.

Republican House leadership has worked to stay out of the fray of the Gaetz controversy. While no one is rushing to defend the Florida Republican they are also not going out of their way to condemn him.

Last week, McCarthy called the allegations against Gaetz serious and suggested that if the accusations were true, they would remove him from the House Judiciary Committee.

“Those are serious implications, if it comes out to be true yes, we would remove him if that was the case,” McCarthy said on Fox News last week. “But right now as Matt Gaetz says it’s not true, and we don’t have any information.”

McCarthy also said that he planned to speak to Gaetz to hear his side of the story. It’s not clear, however, whether that conversation has happened. McCarthy’s office has yet to say if that meeting has occurred.

A senior House GOP source said that Gaetz is unlikely to lose his Judiciary Committee spot unless he’s indicted. Conference rules require an indicted member to lose committee spots. But since Gaetz has denied the allegations and they are based on news reports, it’s doubtful that he would be removed from his assignments before any formal charges are filed, the source said.

In addition to McCarthy, the offices of GOP Whip Steve Scalise and House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney did not respond to requests for comment regarding Gaetz’s future in Congress.

Gaetz has attacked Cheney over her vote to impeach Trump in January, even traveling to her district to hold a rally condemning her impeachment vote.

The push to remove Cheney from office was a sign of why Gaetz was polarizing among Republicans in Congress even before the allegations surfaced.

Gaetz has been a staunch defender of Trump since he was elected in 2016. He focused his efforts in Congress less on building relationships that could lead to legislation getting passed and more on becoming a television staple on conservative networks defending the then-President and going after his critics.

On Monday, Gaetz pushed back against the allegations in an op-ed and declared he was “absolutely not resigning.” Gaetz has also said that his family is the victim of an extortion scheme, which the FBI is separately investigating. He framed the situation on Monday as one in which the political enemies he has accumulated were now circulating.

“Folks won’t be surprised that bizarre claims are being made about me shortly after I decided to take on the most powerful institutions in the Beltway: the establishment; the FBI; the Biden Justice Department; the Cheney political dynasty; even the Justice Department under Trump,” Gaetz wrote.

Gaetz has had some defenders. Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and another close Trump ally, said in a statement, “I believe Matt Gaetz. He should not be removed from the Judiciary Committee.” Jordan has faced his own accusations that he was aware of sexual abuse by a team doctor during his time as an Ohio State University assistant wrestling coach decades ago, which he has steadfastly denied.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conspiracy theory embracing Georgia Republican firebrand who was removed from her committees through a House vote this year, also tweeted in support of Gaetz.

But most Republicans have stayed conspicuously silent. GOP lawmakers and aides say it’s a sign that they want to see what becomes of the allegations against Gaetz, who has not been charged with a crime.

There’s no sign yet that Gaetz will be removed from any committees, though he was one of the Republicans calling for Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, to be removed from the House Intelligence Committee after Swalwell was targeted by a suspected Chinese spy. Swalwell has denied wrongdoing, saying he cooperated with the FBI when it notified him, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said he acted correctly promptly cutting off ties.

“Keeping Eric Swalwell on the Intelligence Committee is like putting Anthony Weiner on the Ethics Committee,” Gaetz tweeted in December.

At least one Republican is taking steps to distance himself from Gaetz. Rep. David Valadao, a California Republican in a competitive district, donated campaign contributions he received from Gaetz’s campaign committee in 2018 and 2020 to an organization that supports victims of domestic abuse.

“The Valadao for Congress Campaign has donated the contributions to the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno to support victims of domestic abuse,” campaign spokesman Andrew Renteria said.

It’s not yet clear if others will follow suit. CNN reached out to multiple GOP lawmakers who received contributions from Gaetz, and they either did not say or did not respond to requests for comment about whether they would return or donate the funds.

The House is in the middle of a two-week recess, making it easier for Republicans to largely avoid questions from reporters on Gaetz. That could change next week when Congress returns — although there’s a chance Gaetz won’t have to be there himself.

Gaetz is one of the Republicans who has filed a letter with the House to allow for proxy voting, which was allowed last year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Gaetz has designated Rep. Michael Waltz, another Florida Republican, to cast a proxy vote for him, though a Waltz spokesman said Tuesday that Gaetz has not yet asked him to do so once Congress returns next week.

“Rep. Waltz has not been asked to proxy vote next session,” the spokesman said.

This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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