A 2019 video has resurfaced showing then-President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump meeting a man at the centre of Matt Gaetz’s swirling sex scandal.
Jason Pirozzolo, a hand surgeon and marijuana entrepreneur, is accused of paying for travel expenses – including female escorts – on a trip he took with Congressman Gaetz to the Bahamas in late 2018 or early 2019.
On Thursday, Twitter users unearthed a June 2019 video showing Mr Trump and his wife meeting Mr Pirozzolo on an airport tarmac in Orlando, Florida, along with Governor Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey.
Mr Trump was there to launch his 2020 presidential campaign at a rally in the Florida city. It is not clear why Mr Pirozzolo was there.
The video was filmed by Orlando Sentinel reporter Ryan Gillespie, long before the scandal broke. His caption innocently describes Mr Pirozzolo as “an Orlando hand surgeon and GOAA board member”, referring to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
The Justice Department is currently investigating whether Mr Gaetz and Mr Pirozzolo hired women for sex across state lines, which may violate sex-trafficking laws. It is also investigating whether Mr Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him, which, if true, could violate trafficking laws as well.
“Traveling across state lines is what creates a federal hook for a prosecution,” Arlo Devlin-Brown, a former prosecutor, told CBS. “It doesn’t matter that Gaetz personally paid them as long as he knows someone is doing that.”
Neither man has been charged. Mr Gaetz has fiercely denied the allegations and accused his enemies of blackmail.
“Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been victims of an organised criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name,” he said in a series of tweets. “No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation.”
Mr Gaetz’s office has also specifically denied the allegations regarding the Bahamas trip, which CBS first reported on Thursday.
“Rep. Gaetz has never paid for sex, nor has he had sex with an underage girl,” a spokesman told CBS. “What began with blaring headlines about ‘sex trafficking’ has now turned into a general fishing exercise about vacations and consensual relationships with adults.”