In the twilight of Donald Trump’s administration, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) sought preemptive pardons from the president for any crimes he and his allies in Congress may have committed, The New York Times reports.
Gaetz, 38, is currently under federal investigation for potential sex trafficking in connection with an alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl, focusing especially on whether he paid for her to travel with him, and the inquiry had begun by the time he made the request for multiple pardons. The Department of Justice is also probing whether Gaetz paid multiple women for sex on various visits to Florida alongside his close ally Joel Greenberg, the now indicted former Seminole County tax collector. Gaetz has denied the allegations.
It is unclear if Gaetz or Trump knew of the investigation into the Florida congressman, but the White House declined anyway, believing a priori forgiveness would establish an unseemly precedent, according to the Times. Attorney General William Barr had been briefed on the investigation into Gaetz and even reportedly canceled an appearance alongside the Florida Republican. It is unclear if Gaetz discussed the blanket pardons with the former president directly or if the conversation happened via aides. One former aide to Gaetz, Nathan Nelson, told the Times on Monday that the FBI had questioned him about his old boss’ activities.
A spokesperson for Gaetz said 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.”
Gaetz appeared on Sean Hannity’s show, one of the primetime programs Trump was known to watch, to advocate for a broad swath of pardons in December 2020, not long after news broke that Trump planned to pardon former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who had already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
“President Trump should pardon Michael Flynn, he should pardon the Thanksgiving Turkey, he should pardon anyone from himself to his administration officials to Joe exotic if he has to. 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, vigor and effectiveness that delivered for the American people,” Gaetz told the Fox News host.
“I think the president ought to wield that pardon power effectively and robustly,” he added.
The case against Greenberg led federal agents to probe Gaetz’s conduct, and investigators reportedly believe the two may have had sex with the same 17-year-old. Greenberg is now in jail awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges after he violated the terms of his bail.
In Congress, Gaetz has fashioned himself into a fierce defender of the former president and a conservative firebrand with a flare for media appearances. He has held talks with a suite of conservative cable news channels—Fox News, One America News, and Newsmax—about a post-Congress contributor gig. Despite Gaetz’s loyalty, Donald Trump has not come to his defense as the political fallout from the investigation continues.
Gaetz has cultivated a reputation as brash and unlikeable during his three terms in Congress, as Republicans previously told The Daily Beast. He sometimes shared photos and videos of nude women to fellow lawmakers on the House floor to brag about sleeping with them. In the Florida state senate, Gaetz reportedly partook in a sexual game where male members of the legislature competed to sleep with aides, other lawmakers, and lobbyists, classifying the conquests with a point system and even dubbing one woman “the snitch” in a reference to the Harry Potter books.
Gaetz has maintained that the investigation into his relationships and travel is part of a plot to extort tens of millions from himself and his father, former Florida state senator Don Gaetz, whose net worth reaches into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The footnote to the saga of the investigation veers into strange territory. A Florida lawyer named Don McGee, a Florida real estate developer previously convicted of fraud named Stephen Alford, and a former Air Force intelligence official named Bob Kent are said to have urged Gaetz to pay them $25 million earlier this year. They claimed they would use it to ransom an American hostage in Iranian custody who has already been declared dead. The elder Gaetz wore a wire to a meeting with one of the men in cooperation with an FBI investigation.