In the waning days of Trump administration, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called on then-President Donald Trump to pardon himself and a swath of his Republican allies before leaving office, warning that it may be the only way to protect against the “blood-lust” of the “radical left.” But in light of Tuesday’s New York Times report which said that Gaetz also “privately asked the White House for blanket preemptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies,” some are questioning whether the three-term congressman may have been trying to get in front of the Justice Department’s probe into whether he violated sex-trafficking laws. After all, the probe began while Bill Barr was still Attorney General (a role Barr served in until Dec. 23). But both Gaetz and Trump, through various spokespersons, have denied that Gaetz was angling for a personal pardon.
Gaetz, who had long been one of the president’s most ardent supporters and a consistent purveyor of conspiracy theories about election fraud, appeared on The Ingraham Angle in November 2020 with an interesting strategy pitch for Trump. The then-president, who was still in the throes of challenging his election loss on multiple fronts at the time, had not yet issued batches of high-profile pardons for his friends and allies.
“President Trump should pardon Michael Flynn. He should pardon the Thanksgiving turkey. He should pardon everyone from himself to his administration officials to Joe Exotic if he has to,” Gaetz said, referring last to the reality television star who was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot. “Because you see from the radical left a bloodlust that will only be quenched if they come after the people who worked so hard to animate the Trump administration with the policies and the vigor and the effectiveness that delivered for the American people.”
Gaetz added, “I think the president ought to wield that pardon power effectively and robustly.”
But the eyebrow-raising advice from Gaetz is being viewed in a new light considering reports that he is currently being investigated over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him. While it is not clear how much Gaetz knew about the investigation at the time he allegedly asked for the blanket preemptive pardon, a slew of Trump associates have been speculating that the request “was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure,” according to the Times report.
Though Trump ultimately did pardon many of his own personal friends and political allies, sources with knowledge of the situation told the Times that White House attorneys viewed Gaetz’s request as a “nonstarter,” reasoning that it would “set a bad precedent.”
Gaetz has repeatedly denied the allegations against him. A spokesman rejected reports that the congressman privately requested a pardon due to the current investigation into his alleged relationship with a minor.
“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 spokesman said in a statement. “Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”
Trump’s office similarly denied the Times report.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump’s office said in a statement. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
[image via MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Image]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]