Tucker Carlson has happily boosted some of the right’s most extreme figures for years, but Rep. Matt Gaetz’s appearance on his Fox News show last night—to defend himself after news broke that the Justice Department is investigating him for child sex trafficking—left Carlson bewildered.
Gaetz went on Carlson’s show Tuesday night, a few hours after the New York Times reported that the Florida congressman and Trump ally was under investigation for possibly breaking federal sex trafficking laws.
The probe, which reportedly began in 2020 under then-Attorney General William Barr, is looking into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel, according to the Times. It’s part of a larger investigation into Joel Greenberg, a former Florida county tax collector and a political ally of Gaetz. Greenberg was indicted last August on federal charges including sex trafficking a minor between the ages of 14 and 17, the Times reported.
After the Times story broke, Gaetz tweeted that he was the victim of a $25 million “organized criminal extortion” attempt by a former DOJ official that’s being investigated by the FBI, and that the Times story was a “planted leak” that was “intended to thwart that investigation.”
In the eight-minute interview with Carlson, Gaetz continued to defend himself. “It is a horrible allegation, and it is a lie,” he said. “The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false.”
“I do believe there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to smear me,” he added. “Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people who you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”
Gaetz demanded the FBI release purported audio recordings from a wiretap involving his father, former state senator Don Gaetz, and the former DOJ official he says was involved, David McGee. (McGee told the Daily Beast that Gaetz’s claims were “completely, totally false.”)
After a very convoluted explanation of the alleged extortion scheme, Gaetz then tried to drag Carlson under the bus with him, much to Carlson’s confusion.
“I’m not the only person on screen right now who has been falsely accused of a terrible sex act,” Gaetz told Carlson. “You were accused of something you did not do, so you know what this feels like, you know the pain it can bring to your family.”
“You just referred to a mentally ill viewer who accused me of a sex crime 20 years ago,” Carlson responded. “And, of course, it was not true. I never met the person. But I agree with you, being falsely accused is one of the worst things that can happen, and you do see it a lot.”
Gaetz then said that Carlson met the woman, which was news to Carlson. “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,” Gaetz said.
“I don’t remember the woman you are speaking of or the context at all, honestly,” Carlson said. Gaetz went on to say that the 17-year-old “doesn’t exist. I have not had a relationship with a 17-year-old.” Later, he added that “people” are claiming “there are pictures of me with child prostitutes,” something that was not part of the New York Times story and which Gaetz denied.
When the interview was over, Carlson was dumbfounded.
“That was one of the weirdest interviews I've ever conducted,” the Fox host said. “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 is a deeply interesting story, and we'll be following it,” he added. “Don't quite understand it. But we'll bring you more when we find out.”