What a House ethics probe means for Rep. Matt Gaetz

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 1:38 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is facing a slew of allegations against him, and now those issues are spilling over into his political career as well.

Federal investigators have been reportedly looking into whether the congressman violated any sex trafficking or campaign finance laws. Now, the House Committee on Ethics is investigating Gaetz’ alleged conduct.

Bipartisan leaders of the committee released a statement on April 9 saying, “The committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe…in violation of House rules, laws or other standards of conduct...The mere fact that it is investigating these allegations, and publicly disclosing its review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”

As the committee begins looking into a complaint against Gaetz, a congressional policy expert we spoke with says this may be a lengthy process, and many of the details will remain under wraps.

“They just like to keep these things close to the vest, so they don’t influence any sort of the procedures or any of the outcomes that they might find,” said Casey Burgat, legislative affairs director at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

Burgat says congressional ethics investigations can either find that there’s no evidence of wrongdoing, issue a censure as a way of rebuking a member’s conduct, or rule that a lawmaker should be stripped of committee assignments or kicked out of Congress altogether.

“[The recommendation to be kicked out of Congress is] really rare, and so when you get to that level, you typically see a resignation far before that,” said Burgat.

During political scandals or controversies, Burgat says party leaders may also denounce a member within their own ranks. He points to when the Republican Party sanctioned then-Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and removed him of committee assignments, following reports that King made various racist comments.

“When they know that something is coming down the pike, parties will likely get in front of that ethics investigation to sanction their own member as a way of saying that ‘We are being responsive to this credible allegation of misconduct,’” said Burgat.

Ultimately, Burgat says a congressional ethics probe – which ends if a lawmaker leaves office – doesn’t carry the same weight of a criminal investigation.

“The level of criminality that’s been alleged against Representative Gaetz – the ethics investigation within Congress is probably not even on his top 100 of concerns right now,” said Burgat.

Gaetz denies breaking any laws and claims to be the victim of a partisan attack. He is not facing any charges at this time.

The Panhandle-area congressman recently posted a video on Twitter, thanking his supporters and telling constituents his work representing them in DC continues.

The Gray Television Washington News Bureau reached out to a spokesman for Gaetz for comment but did not hear back by deadline.

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