WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — House Republicans would “take action” on Rep. Matt Gaetz if the Justice Department formally moves ahead against him, one of the chamber’s top GOP leaders said Wednesday.
“If something really formal happened from Justice, we would of course react and take action,” Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana told reporters Wednesday. The remarks by Scalise made him the latest of congressional Republicans who have not explicitly defended the Florida Republican.
Federal prosecutors are examining whether the embattled 38-year-old representative paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex and violated federal sex trafficking laws, people familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press.
A House Ethics Committee also announced last week it opened a bipartisan ethics probe into the embattled representative citing allegations of sexual and other misconduct. No charges have been filed, and Gaetz has denied the allegations, insisting he will not resign his seat in Congress.
Scalise said in recent years, party leaders have removed Republican lawmakers facing serious charges from their committee assignments. That was essentially a restatement of the House GOP’s internal rules, which require lawmakers to resign from committees if they are indicted for felonies with penalties of at least two years in prison.
Gaetz serves on the Armed Services and Judiciary committees, and critics, including prominent Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said he should immediately be removed from the Judiciary panel because it oversees the Justice Department.
Gaetz did not attend a weekly closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Wednesday, Scalise said. Scalise said he’s not yet discussed the allegations with Gaetz but expected to meet with him this week.
“It’s serious things alleged. Obviously we want to get the facts,” Scalise said.
Gaetz and other Florida Republicans and political allies are being examined as part of a broad public corruption inquiry by federal investigators that began months ago. Prosecutors are said to be examining whether Gaetz and Joel Greenberg, a former county tax official, paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex.
Greenberg is working toward a plea deal with federal prosecutors which might mean he would provide prosecutors with information about the congressman. Greenburg pleaded not guilty to charges including child sex trafficking and fraud.
“I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Fritz Scheller, a lawyer for Greenberg, said after a hearing last week.
Gaetz has retained Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner, two prominent New York attorneys, as his legal team, a Gaetz spokesperson said in a statement Friday.
“Matt has always been a fighter. A fighter for his constituents, a fighter for the country, and a fighter for the Constitution. He’s going to fight back against the unfounded allegations against him,” the statement said.
Asked for comment Tuesday after returning to Washington for a vote after Congress’ two-week Easter recess, Gaetz referred reporters to a column he wrote saying he had not paid for sex and accusing his critics of being corrupt.
Florida’s two Republican senators have remained neutral when asked about Gaetz.
“Sure, and I don’t think anyone’s saying they’re not,” Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday when a reporter suggested the allegations are serious. “And he’s pretty firm in his denial, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.” Rubio said he’s not spoken with Gaetz since news of the investigation emerged late last month.
On Monday, Sen. Rick Scott said Gaetz faces “pretty serious allegations” but didn’t say what should happen to him. “I think we’ve got to get all the facts,” Scott said.
Former Republican President Donald Trump did issue a statement in defense of the congressman but he denied Gaetz asked him for a preemptive pardon during his final days in office, despite media reports. Trump issued more than 70 pardons in the waning days of his first term.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said in a statement last week. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
McCarthy, R-Calif., said that the accusations were “serious” and that if proved, Gaetz would be removed from committees. Notably, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted that Gaetz “needs to resign.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Gaetz should be at a minimum removed from the House Judiciary Committee if the claims are true.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.