According to Matt Gaetz, he is entirely innocent of allegations involving sex trafficking and prostitution, including involving a minor that the Justice Department is currently investigating.
“First I have never, ever paid for sex,” the Florida Republican wrote in an op-ed published in the conservative Washington Examiner on Monday. “And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old.”
Words are one thing. Actions are another. And Gaetz’s actions – in the final days of the Trump administration – suggest a man who was worried about possible legal exposure.
Gaetz tried to secure a blanket preemptive pardon for himself (and his congressional allies) in the dying embers of Donald Trump’s time in the White House, two people familiar with the matter tell CNN. Which, whoa. People who know they have done nothing wrong are not usually in the business of seeking a preemptive pardon from the President of the United States on his way out the door. Right? Right!
Now, The New York Times, which first reported the story, notes that it’s unclear whether Gaetz knew about the DOJ investigation at the time that he asked for the pardon. And, according to the Times, he never informed the White House, which never seriously considered his request, that he was under federal investigation. (That could, of course, be because Gaetz didn’t know he was under investigation.)
“Entry-level political operatives have conflated a pardon call from Representative Gaetz – where he called for President Trump to pardon ‘everyone from (Trump), to his administration, to Joe Exotic’ – with these false and increasingly bizarre, partisan allegations against him,” a Gaetz spokesperson told the Times. “Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”
Hmmm … so, Gaetz’s official explanation is that because he asked for Trump to pardon lots of people, someone (or several someones) conflated that broad ask with Gaetz personally asking for a pardon for himself and his allies in Congress? That feels, well, implausible?
Also, it’s worth noting that days before the news broke that Gaetz had reportedly sought a pardon months ago, he told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson this: “I’m not seeking a pardon. I’ve not done anything improper or wrong.”
I suppose that Gaetz could say that he wasn’t lying when he told Carlson that on March 30, because he wasn’t actively seeking a pardon then – because he had reportedly already sought a pardon and been rejected by Trump? Plus, Trump isn’t president anymore so he can’t pardon people. And President Joe Biden seems, uh, unlikely to pardon Gaetz.
Gaetz also noted in the Carlson interview that “they were promising that Joe Biden would pardon me,” which seems to provide additional backup for the idea that he had been seeking a pardon for himself.
Look. Even under the most friendly reading of the reported pardon request by Gaetz, he was seeking to protect himself legally because he feared that his high-profile defense of Trump could make him a target well after Trump left office.
Under a slightly less friendly interpretation of the situation, Gaetz either knew or suspected he and/or some of the people he hung out with in Florida had drawn the attention of the Justice Department and he wanted to preemptively protect himself before he lost the chance to do do when Trump left office.
Why might Gaetz seek pardons for his congressional allies as well as himself? Well, there’s a lot we still don’t know, but the alleged tactic calls to mind something familiar to any parent. It’s just like when you’re a kid and you have a bad report card that your parent needs to sign, so you stick it in between a bunch of innocuous papers and just have them sign the whole bunch – in hopes they don’t pay special attention to the report card. (I, dear reader, would never pull such a trick!)
Gaetz may well be exonerated by this Justice Department investigation. The DOJ isn’t commenting and our ability to see inside a federal investigation is extremely limited. So, we simply don’t know how this ends up.
But what we do know is that it’s not a convincing look for a totally innocent man to seek a blanket preemptive pardon from an outgoing president – and then say he wasn’t seeking that pardon. None of that makes Gaetz guilty. But it certainly creates more questions – none of which are good for him.