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Matt Gaetz investigated over claims he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, report says

Matt Gaetz, a Republican congressman from Florida and close ally of former president Donald Trump, is being investigated over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid her to travel with him, the New York Times reported.

The investigation is said to be focused on whether Mr Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws, the newspaper said, citing three people briefed on it.

The congressman denied the allegations in a separate interview with Axios, calling them “as searing as they are false.”

“I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy,” he told Axios.

The investigation is reportedly part of a larger probe into Joel Greenberg, a Florida official and political ally of Mr Gaetz who was indicted last summer on child sex trafficking charges.

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Justice Department investigators are reportedly looking into encounters between Mr Gaetz and the girl that were alleged to have taken place two years ago, when the girl was 17.

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The probe began in the final months of the Trump administration, the New York Times reported, under then attorney general Bill Barr.

It is against federal law to induce someone under the age of 18 to travel across state lines for the purposes of paying for sex. Mr Gaetz has not yet been charged with any crime.

The 38-year-old congressman, who is considered a rising star on the right of the Republican Party, told The New York Times that he did not know the details of the allegations against him, only that “it has to do with women.”

“I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorise my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” he added.

When asked by Axios to speculate on the nature of the charges, Mr Gaetz responded: ““I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated. You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”

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Mr Gaetz was elected to represent Florida’s first congressional district in 2016 and assumed office in January the next year. He has frequently courted controversy during his tenure, taking a combative approach to his political opponents online and in the media.

He is a staunch ally of Donald Trump, and was among 13 Florida Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election on the basis of bogus claims of fraud.

During a recent appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast, Mr Gaetz called Trump “the greatest president in my lifetime, one of the greatest presidents our country’s ever had, maybe the greatest president our country has ever had.”

Earlier on Tuesday, it was reported by Axios that Mr Gaetz was considering retiring from congressional politics to take up a position with the right-wing news channel Newsmax.