Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted Wednesday that Democrats should defund the FBI, the same agency investigating whether the Florida congressman participated in sex trafficking.
“If Democrats want to defund the police, they should start with the FBI,” Gaetz wrote, before deleting it almost immediately. The post was only up for one minute, according to ProPublica’s Politiwoops, which tracks politicians’ deleted tweets.
A Gaetz spokesperson said that the congressman “felt it appropriate to remove a jocular tweet taken from a speech some time ago” because he takes oversight of the FBI so seriously.
The spokesperson also demanded that VICE News run the statement in full or not at all, which we did not agree to do. But here it is anyway, so you can see it for yourself.
"Given how seriously Rep. Gaetz treats his interactions with the FBI — especially his latest work in pursuing the facts surrounding Chinese defector Dr. Li Meng Yan and her safety in the United States — Rep. Gaetz felt it appropriate to remove a jocular tweet taken from a speech some time ago. He looks forward to hearing back from FBI Director Christopher Wray on what the FBI knew about the COVID-19 origins when Dr. Yan first came to the U.S. in early 2020.”
This is a reference to Gaetz’s demand for a briefing with FBI Director Christopher Wray over the FBI’s interactions with a purported whistleblower who has claimed that COVID-19 was created in a lab. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said in a September report that the claims put forward by Yan “offer contradictory and inaccurate information that does not support their argument.”
The Justice Department has reportedly been investigating Gaetz since last year over whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and paid her to travel with him. The investigation also reportedly centers on Joel Greenberg, an associate of Gaetz and former county tax collector in Florida. Greenberg struck a plea deal with prosecutors in May and pleaded guilty to six federal charges, including sex trafficking a minor.
Gaetz has repeatedly denied that he participated in any illegal activity.
“Congressman Gaetz doesn’t seem to be named nor referenced in Mr. Greenberg’s plea,” Harlan Hill, a spokesperson for Gaetz, said in May following Greenberg’s plea. “Congressman Gaetz has never had sex with a minor and has never paid for sex.”
Gaetz has previously criticized calls to defund the police, once describing it as part of a plan to remake America into a liberal “Woketopia.” The movement to defund the police gained prominence last year after anti-racism activists included it as part of their demands following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville last year. Though few Democrats have actively supported calls to defund the police, it has become an oft-repeated attack on the Left from conservatives.
Tuesday's tweet is not the first time that Gaetz has publicly renounced the FBI.
Last week, he claimed—without any evidence—that “FBI operatives organized and participated in the January 6th Capitol riot.”
And in an appearance on the right-wing network Newsmax last week, Gaetz raised “the question of whether or not the FBI animated some of the criminal conduct” during the Capitol riot.
Again, there is zero evidence that this happened. And Gaetz is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which provides oversight over the FBI and Justice Department. But ironically, Gaetz brought up the FBI’s dark history of infiltrating the Civil Rights Movement with the COINTELPRO program, which also targeted more left-wing groups such as the Communist Party and the Black Panthers between the mid-1950s to the early 1970s.
“It's reasonable to ask whether or not the FBI is engaged in a playbook where first they infiltrate an organization and then they try to bring that organization to the point of criminal conduct as a mechanism to try and bring it down,” Gaetz said. "The FBI has a long history of this, dating back to even the Civil Rights era, and I certainly hope our premier law enforcement organization is not actually working to violate federal law."