Within the first three months of 2021, according to Media Matters’ internal database, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) made 37 weekday appearances on Fox News daytime and prime-time programming. At the time, Gaetz and Fox News enjoyed a symbiotic relationship: Gaetz would appear weekly to biweekly to lend his firebrand personality and shameless distortion of the truth to whatever culture or message war the network was pushing, and in turn, the network elevated his stardom and status as one of former President Donald Trump’s top henchmen.
On March 30, 2021, the relationship between the Trump loyalist and the network dramatically shifted when The New York Times reported that Gaetz was facing a Justice Department inquiry over allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with an underage girl. Fox’s leading face, Tucker Carlson, responded to the bombshell report by hosting Gaetz for a softball interview in which the congressman professed his innocence and claimed the Times was “smearing” him based on a financial extortion plot against Gaetz and his family. (While a Florida businessman eventually pleaded guilty to wire fraud against the Gaetz family, the investigation into Gaetz’ relationship with underage women was separate, and The Daily Beast outlined the numerous falsehoods Gaetz made in the interview.)
Gaetz also attempted to implicate Carlson by comparing his situation to false allegations against Carlson and suggesting Carlson had met a “friend” involved in the plot, leading the host to call it “one of the weirdest” interviews he’s ever done. This exchange landed Gaetz an informal excommunication from the network, forcing him off Fox airwaves until Carlson hosted him again, an exact year later, on March 30, 2022, to plead his innocence. Within the two last months, Carlson’s other prime-time colleagues Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham have all followed suit, hosting Gaetz with no mention of the scandal.
The Justice Department investigation is still ongoing, yet Fox has welcomed its former star back with open arms. As Gaetz’s scandals have deepened, it’s unclear what changed in the network’s calculation of the lawmaker’s suitability for its airwaves. At best, Gaetz’s increased appearances on Fox are another tool to fuel bad-faith Republican arguments, especially amid their desperate attempts to distract from the January 6 hearings. At worst, the network’s embrace of Gaetz represents a callous disregard for serious allegations, made particularly ironic given Fox’s recent homophobic campaign against the LGBTQ+ community under the pretense of protecting children from supposed groomers.
Here is a timeline of all the revelations made about Gaetz during his time off-air:
- March 30, 2021: The New York Times reported that Gaetz is the subject of a Justice Department inquiry over an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old in which he had paid for her to travel with him, thus potentially violating federal sex trafficking laws. The investigation, which was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William Barr, arose from an investigation into Gaetz’ political ally Joel Greenberg, who was indicted in 2021 for various charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex.
- April 1, 2021: CNN reported that Gaetz had allegedly showed nude photos of women he’d had a sexual relationship with to lawmakers while on the House floor.
- April 1, 2021: The New York Times reported that the inquiry into Gaetz and Greenberg is focused on their “involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments.” According to the Times, Gaetz and Greenberg allegedly used Cash App for payments, instructing “the women to meet at certain times and places, often at hotels around Florida,” and telling them “the amount of money they were willing to pay.” The Times also reported that Gaetz allegedly took ecstasy before having sex and would ask women to find others interested in having sex with him and his friends.
- April 2, 2021: ABC News reported that a source said Gaetz was “often spotted trying to pick up young women at 101 Restaurant, a once-popular watering hole in Tallahassee for some lawmakers and students from nearby Florida State University.” The source also said that Gaetz was part of the group of male lawmakers who had a scoring system to score their female sexual conquests. (The scoring system had been previously reported by the Miami Herald.) The men allocated points for various targets such as interns, staffers, and virgins.
- April 5, 2021: The Orlando Sentinel quoted retired Florida state Rep. Tom Goodson explaining that Gaetz fought fiercely against a 2015 law that protected against revenge porn because Gaetz “thought that any picture was his to use as he wanted to, as an expression of his rights.”
- April 6, 2021: The New York Times reported that Gaetz had privately sought “blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed” in the final weeks of Trump’s term.
- April 8, 2021: CBS News reported that a trip to Gaetz took to the Bahamas “in late 2018 or early 2019” was a part of the federal investigation into sex trafficking. Gaetz took the trip with “marijuana entrepreneur and hand surgeon … Jason Pirozzolo, who allegedly paid for the travel expenses, accommodations, and female escorts.” CBS News also reported that investigators were determining whether Gaetz “was accepting paid escorts in exchange for political access or legislative favors.”
- April 8, 2021: The Daily Beast reported that Gaetz had used the app Venmo to pay $900 to Greenberg, who in turn then sent money to “three young women” that totaled $900. While Gaetz had a nickname for one of the young women in the subject line of one of the payments, Greenberg had disguised the money as being for “tuition” or “school.” The article also stated that Venmo transactions had linked Gaetz with women to whom Greenberg had previously used taxpayer funds to send payments.
- April 9, 2021: The House Ethics Committee announced it would investigate claims that Gaetz engaged in “sexual misconduct and illicit drug use and showed images of naked women on the House floor,” as The Washington Post reported.
- April 13, 2021: Politico reported that Gaetz’s 2018 Bahamas trip included “at least five young women,” including the former minor at the heart of the Justice Department’s investigation.
- April 14, 2021: CNN talked to two women who said they attended parties in the Orlando area with Gaetz and other prominent Florida officials involving drug use, sex, and payments.
- April 14, 2021: The Daily Beast reported that Greenberg made “more than 150 Venmo payments to dozens of young women.” Greenberg paid the then-17-year-old $300 in June 2017, with the Venmo subject line listing “Food.” The article also cited sources who claimed Gaetz “was among the men who tapped Greenberg to access a large network of young women.” The Daily Beast reviewed Venmo transactions that “show[ed] dozens of suspicious and curiously titled payments. Some were as simple as ‘Ass’ or a lipstick kiss mark.”
- April 23, 2021: CNN also independently confirmed that the Justice Department is focusing on the 2018 Bahamas trip, specifically on whether it was “part of an orchestrated effort to illegally influence Gaetz in the area of medical marijuana.”
- April 29, 2021: The Daily Beast obtained a draft of a confessional letter from Greenberg that claimed he and Gaetz “paid for sex with multiple women — as well as the girl who was 17 at the time.” The letter said, “On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself.” The Daily Beast also explained that the letter said Greenberg “facilitated Gaetz’s interactions with college students — and paid them on his behalf.” The letter was reportedly written after Greenberg offered $250,000 in Bitcoin to Trump ally Roger Stone, seemingly to help him receive a pardon from Trump.
- May 21, 2021: CNN reported that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend, a “former Capitol Hill staffer” and “critical witness,” agreed to cooperate in the sex trafficking investigation.
- January 12, 2022: NBC News reported that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend had testified to a grand jury earlier in the month about “other women Gaetz was involved with” at the time of their relationship. Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend also reportedly attended the 2018 Bahamas trip.
- January 26, 2022: The Daily Beast reported that a witness named “Big Joe” Ellicott can confirm that Gaetz was told he had sex with a minor because he was in Greenberg’s office when Greenberg told Gaetz the fact during a call on September 4, 2017.
- March 4, 2022: The Washington Post obtained video from a Danish documentary crew of Stone “telling a friend over the phone” that he had “raised the cases of ‘Gaetz and others’” on a phone call with then-President Trump, referring to pardons.