The New York Times reports that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in the final weeks of former President Donald Trump’s term asked the White House for preemptive pardons for himself and congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, citing two people told about the discussions.
Around that time, Mr. Gaetz was also publicly calling for broad pardons from Mr. Trump to thwart what he termed the “bloodlust” of their political opponents. But Justice Department investigators had begun questioning Mr. Gaetz’s associates about his conduct, including whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old that violated sex trafficking laws, in an inquiry that grew out of the case of an indicted associate in Florida.
It was unclear whether Mr. Gaetz or the White House knew at the time about the inquiry, or who else he sought pardons for. Mr. Gaetz did not tell White House aides that he was under investigation for potential sex trafficking violations when he made the request. But top White House lawyers and officials viewed the request for a pre-emptive pardon as a nonstarter that would set a bad precedent, the people said.
Aides told Mr. Trump of the request, though it is unclear whether Mr. Gaetz discussed the matter directly with the president. Mr. Trump ultimately pardoned dozens of allies and others in the final months of his presidency, highlighting his willingness to wield his power to help close supporters and lash out against the criminal justice system.
More recently, The Times reported, “some Trump associates have speculated that Mr. Gaetz’s request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure.”
A Gaetz spokesperson denied that the congressman had privately asked for a pardon in relation to the Justice Department investigation, telling 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. Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”