House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made the remarks in response to a question from a reporter about whether Gaetz will be removed from the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department that launched an investigation into the allegations against him.
According to internal House GOP rules, lawmakers charged with serious felonies have their committee memberships stripped.
“Matt Gaetz is the same as any American, he’s innocent until proven guilty,” McCarthy responded. “There’s no charges against him yet. If a charge comes forward, that will be dealt with at that time.”
The House Ethics Committee investigation comes in the wake of a New York Times article published last month stating that Gaetz, who represents parts of western Florida, allegedly had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, paid for her to travel with him, and possibly violated sex trafficking laws. The report cited three unnamed sources who were “briefed on the matter.”
A subsequent NY Times report alleged Gaetz and his friend, former Florida county tax collector Joel Greenberg, paid women who were recruited for sex online and may have involved illegal drugs as well.
A host of other allegations have also surfaced since then, including a CNN report citing anonymous sources stating Gaetz shared nude pictures with colleagues on the House Floor.
The second-term Florida congressman denies all the allegations and says he and his family are being targeted for extortion.
“Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been victims of organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name. We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals,” said Gaetz in a press statement.
“The planted leak to The New York Times tonight was intended to thwart that investigation. No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation. I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations,” Gaetz added.
When asked whether Republicans would act against Gaetz before an indictment if new information surfaces, the House GOP leader brushed it off as a “hypothetical question.”
“I’ll deal with whatever issue as it comes. As of right now, Matt Gaetz says he is innocent, there’s an investigation going on and I’ll let the investigation take care of itself,” McCarthy said.
Masooma Haq and The Associated Press contributed to this report.