Adam Kinzinger becomes first Republican in Congress to call for Matt Gaetz's resignation amid federal investigation

Rep. Adam Kinzinger called for the resignation of fellow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz Thursday night, becoming the first GOP member of Congress to do so since it was first reported that Gaetz was implicated in a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations. 

"Matt Gaetz needs to resign," Kinzinger tweeted, linking to an article about the Justice Department's investigation into Gaetz.

Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing since The New York Times first reported on the federal probe and he has not been charged with any crimes. The Florida Republican, who gained national attention as one of former President Donald Trump's most ardent supporters in Congress, has painted the allegations against him as part of a political attack and, when the news first broke, as part of an extortion scheme. 

The House Ethics Committee released a statement Friday acknowledging the allegations against Gaetz and announced an investigation into the Florida representative's possible violation of House rules. 

"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, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct. The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), has begun an investigation and will gather additional information regarding the allegations," the statement said. 

Gaetz is retaining two prominent New York attorneys, Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner, to lead his legal team, a spokesperson said in a statement Friday.

"Matt has always been a fighter. A fighter for his constituents, a fighter for the country, and a fighter for the Constitution. He’s going to fight back against the unfounded allegations against him," the statement said, adding that the lawyers "will take the fight to those trying to smear his name with falsehoods." 

Among the alleged crimes being investigated, according to multiple media reports, is an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and cash payments made in exchange for sex with several women.

Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector  indicted on more than 30 federal charges in a related case, is negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors.  Among other crimes, Greenberg is charged with child sex trafficking. According to the Times, Greenbeg is accused of trafficking the teen whose relationship with Gaetz is under investigation, and he and Gaetz allegedly made payments to several of the same women for sex. 

"I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today," Greenberg attorney Fritz Scheller told reporters after a hearing in federal court where a potential plea deal was discussed. Scheller cited attorney-client privilege when asked directly if Greenberg was cooperating in a federal investigation of Gaetz. 

Despite the federal investigation and the growing list of allegations against Gaetz, GOP lawmakers have remained mainly silent. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said that it’s too early to judge Gaetz and the allegations against him, but would remove Gaetz from his committee assignments if the allegations are true.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., says he and his family are the targets of an extortion plot.

"Those are serious implications. If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that's the case. But right now, Matt Gaetz says that it's not true, and we don't have any information. So let's get all the information," McCarthy told  Fox News Wednesday.

While most GOP lawmakers have distanced themselves from Gaetz, a few have run to his defense, including Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

"I believe Matt Gaetz. He should not be removed from the Judiciary Committee," Jordan told CNN.

Greene tweeted that she stood with Gaetz and that "Rumors and headlines don’t equal the truth."

Trump issued a short statement Wednesday in response to a Times report that Gaetz had sought a blanket pardon in the final weeks of his term. 

"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."

This latest tweet from Kinzinger isn’t the first time the Illinois Republican has spoken out against members of his own party.

Kinzinger was a strong critic of former Trump and was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach the former president for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Kinzinger also voted to remove Greene from her committee assignments after past videos of the freshman lawmaker espousing conspiracy theories, and other incendiary comments, came to light. Kinzinger said she’d shown "no remorse" for her past comments and accused her of having "a huge desire to be famous."   

Contributing: Jim Little, Pensacola News Journal; The Associated Press