An act of preemptive clemency must sound nice to Matt Gaetz right now, as the Florida representative faces a Department of Justice investigation into whether or not he violated federal sex-trafficking statutes by allegedly paying for a minor to cross state lines to have sex with him. According to the New York Times, that’s what he may have been thinking back in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s term, when he reportedly asked the White House for a blanket pardon for himself and unnamed allies in Congress.
At the time, Gaetz was publicly calling for widespread pardons for Trump allies to protect against “bloodlust” in the new administration. But in private, DOJ investigators were already questioning the congressman’s associates about his conduct, which reportedly included paying escorts to have sex with him in 2019 and 2020.
As the Times notes, it’s not known what Gaetz or the Trump administration knew about the inquiry, which was reportedly opened under former attorney general William Barr before he resigned in December. Gaetz did not tell White House aides that he was under investigation for potential sex-trafficking crimes when he made the request — either suggesting he did not yet know about the inquiry, or that he may have had the foresight to leave the unsavory details out. But sources said that White House attorneys felt a preemptive pardon for allies like Gaetz and Rudy Giuliani would set a bad precedent. Furthermore, the Times reports that “in recent days, some Trump associates have speculated that Mr. Gaetz’s request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure.”
While Trump ultimately chose not even to grant a preemptive pardon to the most worthy of candidates in his eyes — himself — Gaetz’s fierce loyalty to the former president has not been paying off. Since the scandal broke, Trump, along with most every elected Republican official, had not come to the representative’s aide — until he offered a tepid defense in the wake of the Times report on the attempt to get pardoned. “Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” the note reads. “It must also be remember that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
According to the Daily Beast, aides have told Trump to stay quiet as the scandal develops. “The reason you haven’t seen people in MAGA world defending Gaetz is less about him being unpopular, which he is in a lot of circles, and more about the fact that he hasn’t done a single thing to make people comfortable to defend him,” one Trump confidant told Politico. “His interview with Tucker was an absolutely embarrassing train wreck.”
As Gaetz flails without the benefit of party support, more reports emerge detailing his character as a co-worker. According to the Washington Post, Florida House colleagues say the representative — who reportedly showed nude photos of women he slept with to lawmakers on the House floor — opposed a law in 2015 protecting against revenge porn because he believed that the recipients of nude images could do what they wanted with them.