The ever-evolving feud between former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz continued on Sunday as dueling stories emerged about an alleged offer centering on an House Ethics Committee investigation into Gaetz.

Speaking to CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday morning, McCarthy referenced a motion filed last week by Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene aimed removing House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

McCarthy, who was voted out of the speakership in October after Gaetz filed a similar motion, gave advice to the Republican conference — and dinged Gaetz.

“The one advice I would give to the conference and to the speaker is: Do not be fearful of a motion to vacate,” McCarthy said Sunday. “I do not think they could do it again. That was surely based on Matt Gaetz trying to stop an ethics complaint.”

Pressed about his reference to Gaetz, McCarthy elaborated, saying, “It was purely Matt coming to me trying, trying [to get] me to do something illegal to stop the Ethics Committee from moving forward in an investigation that was started long before I became a speaker.”

A fateful conversation on the floor

Reached by phone on Sunday afternoon, South Carolina GOP Rep. Ralph Norman disputed McCarthy’s version of events. His assessment was based on a conversation he witnessed — but didn’t hear — on the House floor between McCarthy and Gaetz that he found unusual because “they weren’t friendly.”

Norman told NBC News that when Gaetz returned to sit near him after that conversation with McCarthy, he asked about their conversation and Gaetz told him that McCarthy had asked, “‘Do you want this to go away?’ or something like that.”

Norman added that Gaetz said he didn’t entertain the notion of an alleged offer in that conversation, and he said that McCarthy didn’t have the chance to ask for something in return for making the ethics investigation “go away.”

“I don’t think it even got that far,” Norman said. “The only thing Matt said was, ‘Kevin said, “Do you need the ethics violation to go away?”’”

Norman added, “And I think Matt — I’m trying to think — said, ‘No you’re the reason it’s there.’”

Gaetz’s office affirmed Norman’s account of the events to NBC News.

Reached by phone on Sunday afternoon and asked to respond to Norman’s comments, McCarthy laughed and told NBC News, “That’s bulls—.”

“What he’s referring to [is] on the floor, I’m talking to Gaetz, but then Gaetz brings up ethics to me,” he said, saying the conversation took place in May.

McCarthy added, “Apparently he got a letter from Ethics asking for documents. … I told him, ‘I don’t know anything about this.’ I told him, ‘You gotta talk to [Ethics Committee Chair Michael] Guest.’”

The House Ethics Committee opened a probe into Gaetz in 2021 to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against him and former New York Rep. Tom Reed, who resigned from Congress in 2022. Federal investigators at the Justice Department were also looking into whether Gaetz and an associate, Joel Greenberg, used the internet to search for women they could pay for sex.

McCarthy and his then-legal counsel Machalagh Carr told NBC News that they believe the House ethics investigation was first opened during the speakership of Rep. Nancy Pelosi but was suspended pending the federal criminal investigation.

McCarthy said he was not aware exactly when it was reopened during his tenure as speaker. He added that he was not aware that the Ethics Committee investigation was reopened until another member of Congress told him about it in 2023 during a conversation in the speaker’s office.

Gaetz has not been charged with any crime, and he has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

McCarthy links the ethics probe to Gaetz’s motion to vacate

The feud between Gaetz and McCarthy came to the forefront when Gaetz triggered the vote last October that ultimately led to McCarthy’s ouster and led to Johnson getting elected speaker.

McCarthy on Sunday afternoon maintained that Gaetz filed a motion to vacate because of his refusal to intervene in the ethics probe.

“What Gaetz was always trying to do was leverage me to try to do something in the Ethics Committee that I would not about his investigation,” McCarthy said.

“I never knew [the investigation] was going on. I’m not going to get in the middle of it. And they can do whatever they’re doing,” he added.

A spokesperson for the House Ethics Committee declined to comment.

Carr reiterated that McCarthy had no power to do anything Gaetz would have wanted him to do anyway, saying, “House leadership has a whole lot of power in a lot of different ways, but Ethics is specifically designed to be completely separate from that.”

“We don’t discuss what investigations are ongoing, how votes should happen,” she added. “Those conversations happen all sorts of ways on every other committee … but Ethics? There’s no communication about what they’re dealing with.”

McCarthy chided Gaetz, alleging the Florida Republican “would jeopardize the entire majority and try to remove me from the speaker to protect” himself from anything that could emerge publicly from the Ethics Committee investigation.

All the reasons Gaetz gave publicly for filing a motion to vacate McCarthy are moot now, another GOP member of Congress told NBC News.

“If Matt Gaetz believed in the rules so much and believed in regular order, and believed in single appropriation bills, he would have been screaming from the rooftops and demanding [another] motion to vacate and demanding that everyone get rid of [now-Speaker] Mike Johnson,” the member said.

McCarthy departed from Congress in December. Gaetz is running for re-election to his seat in November.

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