The Air Force intelligence veteran Matt Gaetz accused of extortion has denied the accusation, saying he just asked for a loan to help free a hostage in Iran

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz claims he and his father are the victims of an extortion plot. 
  • One of the men he accused in the plot, Bob Kent, denied the accusations on Monday. 
  • Kent said he wasn’t trying to extort the Gaetzes, but wanted a loan to help free a missing American.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida has claimed that the accusations surrounding his Justice Department sex-trafficking investigation were false smears used in an extortion attempt.

Now, one of the men that Gaetz accused of extortion, the former Air Force intelligence officer Bob Kent, is denying the claim, saying he was simply trying to ask Gaetz’s father for money to help free an American in Iran.

In interviews with CNN’s Chris Cuomo and SiriusXM personality Michael Smerconish on Monday, Kent said he was not responsible for Gaetz coming under scrutiny in the first place, and said he had nothing to do with the sex-trafficking investigation.

The DOJ is investigating whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travel, and whether he violated sex-trafficking laws in doing so. The New York Times first reported on that investigation last week.

Rep. Matt Gaetz on Capitol Hill in October 2019.AP

Kent told CNN that before the Times report, he had “heard rumors” that Gaetz might be facing political and legal issues and that he made reference to them in a message to Gaetz’s father, the wealthy businessman Don Gaetz, to ask for a $25 million loan to help the former FBI agent Robert Levinson escape captivity in Iran.

Kent did not say on Monday where he got those rumors from, and told CNN he “didn’t have any specifics” about Matt Gaetz’s issues.

However, a letter from Kent to Don Gaetz published by the Washington Examiner included two long paragraphs of details into Gaetz’s sex-trafficking allegations.

“We weren’t out to get Matt Gaetz, we were out to get Robert Levinson,” Kent told CNN. 

Insider has contacted Gaetz’s office for comment for this story.

Levinson disappeared in Iran in 2007, and last year, then-President Donald Trump’s administration told Levinson’s family that he was presumed dead. But Kent, who says he now works as a consultant with a network in Iraq, said he obtained two proof-of-life videos of Levinson and believed him to still be alive.

The $25 million would be used to help pay a ransom to have Levinson returned, Kent said. 

If Don Gaetz funded the effort and Levinson was released, Kent said he would give Matt Gaetz credit for the mission’s success. Kent said he explained to Don Gaetz that this could help his son win political points and perhaps get a presidential pardon, though he didn’t have the power to ensure that.

Kent said he met with Don Gaetz about the plan on March 17, and that the elder Gaetz expressed that he felt this was extortion. Kent said he went on to explain to Don Gaetz that that was not the intention of their meeting. 

“I explained that in no way am I trying to extort him and if he decides not to help us he’ll never hear from me again. I’ll never contact the press about it,” Kent told Smerconish on Monday.

When asked by Cuomo why Kent didn’t just ask Don Gaetz for money to fund the effort, without bringing his son into it, Kent said that the people he’s worked with in the past tend to be motivated by a need to receive “goodwill from the US government.” 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/moYPsgl7sfo

“We’ve worked with multiple people over the years and all of them have been in similar situations,” Kent told CNN. “A lot of them have been facing indictments.”

Kent appeared to acknowledge the problematic phrasing of the letter to Don Gaetz, which detailed Matt Gaetz’s sex-trafficking accusations and how a connection to Levinson’s rescue could benefit the representative, telling Smerconish that it was his partner Stephen Alford who wrote it. When asked by CNN why Kent would work with Alford, who has a previous fraud conviction, Kent said the Levinson’s family attorney vouched for him. 

Kent said that he’s spoken to the FBI since Matt Gaetz accused him of extortion, and explained his side of the story to them. He said the agents did not say whether he was under investigation for extortion. 

“Do you anticipate any problems coming your way because of your dealings with the Gaetz family?” Cuomo asked Kent Monday night. 

“I do not,” Kent said. 

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