In the days following revelations about the federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz’s alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, advisers to Donald Trump have consistently offered him a simple message: Please, please keep your mouth shut.
According to two people familiar with the matter, the twice-impeached former president has closely been monitoring the scandal engulfing one of his favorite allies on Capitol Hill. The ex-president has, in his typical fashion, casually quizzed several confidants about what they think of the situation and if there’s anything that he should do about it.
But multiple people close to Trump have flatly advised him to stay out of it—refrain from publicly defending Gaetz, they are telling him, at least for the time being.
The two sources said that, in all of the conversations they’re aware of, Trump has appeared to ultimately agree with the recommendations to keep quiet. One of the sources added that the former president has lamented that the whole thing seems “really bad” for Gaetz, while also mentioning that the allegations could be a “smear” against the Trump uber-loyalist.
Gaetz has claimed he’s the victim of a convoluted extortion plot, involving Florida lawyers, $25 million, and a bizarre scheme to free former CIA agent Bob Levinson (who the U.S. government assumes is dead). And yet, despite Gaetz’s claims having some credence, the underlying story that Gaetz is under a Justice Department investigation for a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old also seems credible.
In fact, to date, only two House Republicans have really jumped to Gaetz’s defense: Judiciary ranking Republican Jim Jordan (R-OH), who has himself faced allegations that he ignored serial sexual assault, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who seldom misses an opportunity to dismiss media reports and side with Trump-loving Republicans.
Gaetz did not respond to a message asking if he’d heard from former President Trump in recent days. And a Trump spokesperson was also silent Friday. But as of Friday evening, Trump and his office had not issued any official statement on the matter.
Trump, who was booted from his Twitter account, has not been able to tweet—or retweet—about the Gaetz scandal. And various heavy hitters and luminaries of the Trumpworld diaspora, as well as members of the Trump family, have tried to stay hush about the Republican congressman’s mounting troubles.
“I don’t hope for anybody to be guilty of anything, but it sounds like he’s got a lot of explaining to do,” Barry Bennett, a longtime GOP operative and lobbyist who advised Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, said of Gaetz Friday. “People underestimate Donald Trump’s political ear.”
Bennett continued that Trump was loyal to those who are loyal to him. But, he said, nobody wants to be associated with a guy who’s been tagged with these sorts of allegations if they end up being true. “For something like this,” Bennett said, “a ten-foot pole is not long enough. The former president should stay as far away from this as possible.”
In the past, Trump has barely hesitated when it came to publicly defending prominent allies—or himself—when they’ve been accused of sexual misconduct or assault. But this time around, the allegations seem to ring true for many people close to Gaetz. And every day since the initial story, the scandal has widened and become more explosive.
Just on Thursday, it came out that Gaetz is also under investigation for improper use of campaign funds, that he has shown naked pictures of women to fellow lawmakers on the House floor, and that the anchor of the case against him may be a sex ring with an indicted Florida politician.
Not exactly the guy you want to jump to defend.
As for Rep. Gaetz himself, he’s been one of Trump’s most stalwart promoters and defenders on Capitol Hill. Rarely did he ever find a Trump scandal that he wasn’t ready and willing to combat. But after appearing on Tucker Carlson Tuesday night, Gaetz, just like Trump, appears to have gone quiet, waiting himself for whatever is due to come out next.