The Justice Department opened an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz’s conduct during the Trump administration.

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It’s a terrible time to follow Rep. Matt Gaetz Revelations in the New York Times last week that the Republican congressman from Florida’s panhandle is under federal investigation into alleged sexual relationship with and traveling with a 17-year-old girl. Gaetz has confirmed that he is being investigated, but denies the allegations.

According to the Times report, investigators believe Gaetz and the disgraced tax collector Joel Greenberg of Seminole County, who was charged with sex trafficking last August, instructed women they met online to “meet at certain times and.” Meet at certain locations, often Florida hotels, and tell them how much money they were willing to pay. ”

Gaetz classified the allegations as a gross misrepresentation of his Playboy days. “In my individual days I definitely took care of women with whom I made an appointment,” said Gaetz said Axios“You know, I paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been generous as a partner. “

“The New York Times tells a story that I traveled with a 17-year-old woman and that has been proven to be wrong, ”says Gaetz Tucker Carlson said on Fox News last week. “People can look at my travel documents and find out that they are not.”

In fact, however, ordinary people cannot look into Gaetz’s personal or work-related travel reports and see nothing that would “demonstrably” relieve him.

If the congressman had paid the travel expenses for women with his own money, that information would only be available to law enforcement agencies. Investigators could look at airline manifestos and hotel records and try to match them with Gaetz’s personal credit card and bank statements. However, these are private documents.

The Justice Department is reportedly investigating its possible use by the Florida Republican Campaign funds for personal expenses But here, too, Gaetz’s documents at the Bundestag Election Commission neither exonerate him nor do they necessarily incriminate him.

If Gaetz were to use campaign funds to pay travel expenses for women he dated, it would be illegal. “We’re talking about what is called personal entertainment – hotel rooms, if you don’t advertise, dinner to take women out on dates – that would be personal use and that would be misuse of campaign money,” says Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law school and expert in campaign funding regulation.

But even if Gaetz had not used campaign money properly, it would not necessarily only be when looking at the FEC filings. All members of Congress travel extensively, so it’s no surprise that the Friends of Matt Gaetz campaign exposes payments to airlines, hotels and other travel companies.

In addition, this publicly available information is usually extremely vague and opaque. For example, you see an output for a hotel, but you cannot say who stayed there or, more importantly, why.

“So it’s not entirely clear what he’s referring to when he says travelogues,” says Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center. “When he refers to the FEC reports from his campaign, they really don’t say much about where he went or when and who traveled with him.”

Additionally, campaigns are essentially on the honor system to correctly categorize expenses. But, as Zach Everson pointed out in his last week 1100 Pennsylvania NewsletterGaetz’s campaign has made mistakes in the past. For example, five out of eight payouts at the Trump International Hotel Washington DC last summer had to be changed after they were originally incorrectly categorized or left out altogether.

Everson spotted a range of accommodation costs at the former president’s hotel in late July 2020 that looked extremely low – in the range of $ 210-265, roughly half the base price of the Trump hotel. “The RNC was in town,” says Everson. “The prices were sky high. There is no way a normal one of us could just book a room at the Trump Hotel and get it for that price. ”

Nevertheless, it would be neither unusual nor illegal for Trump Hotels to give Gaetz a cheap hotel rate. But when that happened, the Congressman’s campaign should have listed it as a post. “After I reached out to Gaetz’s office, they topped up those expenses as food bills rather than lodging bills,” Everson says.

Even a cursory glance at the Gaetz campaign FEC records reveals several examples of incorrectly categorized expenses – for example, an invoice for Delta Air Lines marked as “lodging” instead of “airfare” – but sloppy records are also not Crime.

The FEC has limited resources, stresses Briffault. “Their focus is less on punishment and more on correction,” he says. “I mean, there have been enforcement actions on occasion, but they’re hard to bring because the law is written so it’s hard to break.”

In one Hiking op-ed Gaetz wrote on the weekend in the right-wing Washington Examiner that he “never paid women for sex”. Still, he apparently found it necessary to train his data on what to say. “Should someone ask about your relationships?” according to the New York Times“Mr. Gaetz told the women that he had paid for hotel rooms and dinner as part of their appointments.”

DOJ investigators are almost certainly taking a close look at whether Gaetz’s campaign records match his encounters with women involved in the investigation. “The FEC generally allows candidates to pay travel expenses for spouses or, in some cases, children, as family members are often part of the campaign,” says Fischer. “But you know it’s different with a girlfriend or a date that you only deal with outside of the campaign.”

Gaetz’s Washington Examiner railed against the “DC swamp” and “Merrick Garland Justice Department rogue” without mentioning an important fact: it was, in fact, Bill Barr’s Justice Department that started the federal investigation into him.

And it seems obvious that Gaetz has known for months that he is in legal danger. Last night the New York Times revealed another bombshell: Gaetz – arguably the pro-Trump of all Republicans in the house – had asked for it and was turned down blanket forgiveness during Trump’s final days in office.