In the final weeks of the Trump presidency, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) asked the White House for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, The New York Times reported on Tuesday night.
It was unclear whether Gaetz or the White House knew about an inquiry into the Florida congressman for potential sex trafficking violations which was already underway. It is also unclear who else Gaetz might have requested pardons for, two people told of the discussions revealed to the Times.
The development demonstrates efforts by the Florida Republican to leverage his ties and fierce loyalty to the former president for personal gain as Justice Department investigators began questioning his associates and examining whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old that violated sex trafficking laws.
The inquiry stems from a case involving the former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, who investigators believe recruited women online to have sex with him and his friend. Greenberg was indicted on multiple charges including a charge in August last year for sex trafficking a minor.
The three-term Republican congressman has denied having sex with a 17-year-old or paying for sex.
While aides informed Trump about the potential pardon it is unclear whether Gaetz had also discussed the matter with the former president on his own, the Times said.
Trump and his close allies have remained largely tight-lipped since the news of the Gaetz inquiry became public.
Some Trump associates speculated to the Times that Gaetz’s request for a group pardon might have been an attempt to obscure his own potential criminal exposure.
Gaetz did not tell White House aides that he was under investigation when he made the request, the Times said.
A Gaetz spokesman also denied that Gaetz privately requested a pardon in connection with the Justice Department inquiry in a statement to the Times.
“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.”
Gaetz had previously denied seeking a pardon from Trump when approached about the subject by Politico.
“The recent false allegations against me are not something I’ve ever discussed with Trump, pardons or otherwise,” he told Politico last week.
Trump finally broke his own silence on the matter, denying that Gaetz had ever asked him for a pardon in a brief statement Wednesday morning.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon.” Trump said. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”