Just a few months ago, Rep. Matt Gaetz was one of the most influential and well-connected young Republicans in Washington. Partially due to his constant appearances on Fox News, Donald Trump––who handpicked numerous members from his administration’s inner circle after watching them praise or defend him on air––forged a close relationship with the eccentric, 38-year-old congressman. Gaetz had the then president’s ear and used TV hits to punch above his weight class, making sure his voice was heard by routinely appearing on the most popular cable-news programs in the country. But in light of Gaetz’s worsening sexual-misconduct scandal, the Florida Republican now lacks the public support of powerful allies in Washington and on air, and is instead apparently trying to salvage his career by taking matters into his own hands.
On Wednesday, Gaetz’s campaign stated that it will target CNN in an ad campaign worth six figures that will “fight back” amid the Justice Department’s investigation, which alleges that he paid women for sex and had sex with a 17-year-old whom he paid to travel across state lines with him. The 30-second TV spot, which will air nationally and on markets in Florida’s 1st Congressional District, is set to appear on various cable networks. “[The ads will] fight back against a multiweek fake news cycle against him,” Gaetz’s campaign wrote in a statement to Politico. “Now we see what’s really behind all of this: Democratic Party and media-driven smears aimed at taking out a Congressman of the United States.”
According to Politico, the ad features footage obtained by the conservative group Project Veritas that is said to show a CNN employee discussing reporting on the Gaetz scandal. The James O’Keefe–founded Project Veritas, seemingly one of Trump’s favorite digital media groups, is, according to Politico, known to use targeted misinformation campaigns against liberal organizations.
Gaetz, who denies the allegations against him, reportedly sent $900 on Venmo to one of his former associates, accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then sent varying sums of money to three young women, totaling $900. Greenberg, a former Florida county tax collector, is reportedly in talks with the Justice Department and has been dishing information to investigators since 2020.
The ad buys marks Gaetz’s latest attempt at crisis P.R. after a series of flops. He previously appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program for a bizarre segment that even the host described as one of the “weirdest” interviews of his career. “It’s highly unlikely you’ll see him on again anytime soon,” a Fox insider told the Daily Beast. Another Fox employee told the outlet that “Gaetz is going to be excommunicado for a while” and another believes “they won’t book him until things wrap up with the investigation.” Carlson, for his role in the wild interview, was reportedly “livid” at Gaetz’s rambling remarks made on his show, as CNN reported the segment “pissed him off.”
As for Gaetz’s relationship with Trump, CNN reported that the congressman attempted to meet with the former president but was denied. Both Gaetz and Trump deny the reporting, with the former calling it “a total lie” and the latter stating that CNN “probably made the whole thing up.” Nonetheless, Trump has not stuck his neck out on his buddy’s behalf. His only public comments on the matter came after Trump denied a Times report last week on Gaetz allegedly asking the former president for a blanket pardon prior to his White House exit. “Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
In a Washington Examiner op-ed, Gaetz denied the allegations made against him by writing, “Consensual adult relationships are not illegal. Although I’m sure some partisan crooks in Merrick Garland’s Justice Department want to pervert the truth and the law to go after me, I will not be intimidated or extorted.” He then portrayed himself as a martyr for the American people: “You’ll see more ‘drip, drip, drip’ of leaks into the media from the corrupt Justice Department and others. When you do, ask yourself why. They aren’t coming for me—they are coming for you. I’m just in the way.” On Twitter, he’s portrayed himself as “a canceled man in some corners” and “a wanted man by the Deep State.”
On the other side of Gaetz’s reputation war stands the Mad Dog PAC, a Democratic-aligned organization responsible for buying up billboards in Florida declaring that Gaetz “wants to ‘date’ your child.”
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