Rep. Matt Gaetz sought a preemptive pardon for himself near the end of President Donald Trump’s term and made his request known to someone outside the White House Counsel’s office, according to two people familiar with the matter, but Gaetz’s request was never seriously considered by the White House because they decided preemptive pardons were off the table.
In the final days of Trump’s term, CNN reported that Pat Cipollone and other lawyers for the President told him he should not pardon himself, his family or any Republican lawmakers in a prospective manner unless he was prepared to list specific crimes.
Gaetz’s push for a pardon, first reported by The New York Times, came during the closing months of the Trump-era Justice Department when federal investigators were beginning an investigation into whether the Florida congressman had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
Gaetz has denied all of the allegations and has tried to portray the sex trafficking investigation as connected to an alleged extortion plot against him. But the effort fuels fresh scrutiny of Gaetz after the Justice Department’s investigation became public.
The Times reported Tuesday that it’s unclear what Gaetz knew of the inquiry at the time of his request, and he didn’t tell White House aides when he sought the pardons that he was under investigation.
Trump said in a statement Wednesday that Gaetz did not ask him for a pardon.
Some Trump associates have theorized in recent days that Gaetz’s request for multiple pardons – not just for himself – was a move to disguise his own potential legal exposure, the newspaper said.
A spokesperson for Gaetz, however, denied to the Times that his pardon request was related to the Justice Department investigation.
“Entry-level political operatives have conflated a pardon call from Representative Gaetz – where he called for President Trump to pardon ‘everyone from himself, to his administration, to Joe Exotic’ – with these false and increasingly bizarre, partisan allegations against him,” the spokesperson told the outlet.
“Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”
A person briefed on the probe confirmed to CNN that federal authorities were investigating Gaetz as part of a broader probe into trafficking allegations against another Florida politician, an investigation that began in the closing months of the Trump-era Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr.
CNN has previously reported that investigators are examining whether Gaetz’s involvement with other young women broke federal sex-trafficking and prostitution laws, according to the person briefed on the probe and another person briefed on the matter. Investigators are also pursuing allegations from witnesses and other evidence that Gaetz may have used cash and drugs in his dealings with young women, the sources said.
Gaetz has not been charged with any crimes and the investigation is still in its early stages, according to sources familiar with the matter.