Investigators from the House Ethics Committee have begun reaching out to witnesses as part of a recently revived investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, focused on allegations that he may have engaged in sexual misconduct, illicit drug use or other misconduct.
At least one witness in Florida told CNN they have spoken to investigators about the Republican congressman in recent weeks about alleged lobbying violations, and sources familiar with the Ethics Committee probe say other witnesses also have been contacted.
A source familiar with the House panel’s work told CNN that the Justice Department’s decision not to bring charges against Gaetz does not impact what the committee will and won’t investigate. The committee plans to examine the same allegations they were looking into when they opened the investigation in 2021, the source told CNN.
The Ethics Committee, which at the time was controlled by Democrats, originally opened an investigation in 2021, publicly announcing that they were examining a range of allegations including that Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, converted campaign funds to personal use and accepted a bribe, among other claims.
Gaetz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Gaetz told CNN on Thursday, the investigation is “not something I’m worried about, I’m focused on the work.”
“The Ethics Committee typically operates through leaks and so this is no surprise, but the Ethics Committee has never found me to be in violation of House rules, though they’ve been investigating me during my entire seven years in Congress,” he said. “It’s also funny that the one guy who doesn’t take the corrupt lobbyist and PAC money seems to be under the most Ethics investigation.”
The committee deferred its investigation at the request of the Justice Department, which was simultaneously probing the allegations. The committee resumed its work earlier this year, as first reported by Punchbowl News, after the DOJ concluded its investigation without bringing charges.
The Ethics Committee declined to comment for this story.
The new contacts are the first known instances of the committee reaching out to witnesses since the panel resumed its investigation earlier this year. So far, the focus of the committee’s recent questions has been on possible lobbying violations, according to the source who was interviewed. This subject was also previously raised in the Justice Department investigation into the congressman.
However, a source familiar with the panel’s probe told CNN that while some witnesses may have only been asked about one aspect of their investigation, that does not mean other witnesses are not being asked questions on other aspects of the probe.
Now chaired by Republican Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi, the panel quietly restarted its investigation earlier this year without publicly laying out its targets anew. The decision to begin reaching out to witnesses, made by Guest and ranking Democratic member, Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, is the first formal step the committee has taken since the ethics investigation resumed.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told CNN this week he doesn’t “know anything about” the investigation, noting that he’s barred by House rules from discussing it with committee members. The Republican-led investigation into Gaetz comes as the Florida congressman finds himself repeatedly at odds with his party’s leadership.
“I never know anything on (the) Ethics Committee,” McCarthy told CNN. “I don’t know what investigations they have. I don’t know anything about it.”
Asked to comment on whether he thinks the investigation should move forward, McCarthy declined to do so and referred questions to the committee.
As speaker, McCarthy appoints members to the committee but is not involved in the processes of the committee’s work. The panel’s work is conducted in closed-door executive session, and the only people by rule who are allowed to be involved in committee investigations are Ethics Committee members and staff, a source familiar with the probe told CNN.
The source added that McCarthy has no power over the Ethics Committee’s investigation into Gaetz, and any level of his involvement would violate committee rules.