WASHINGTON – Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was one of President Donald Trump's most vocal allies during his term, publicly pledging loyalty and even signing a letter nominating the president for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the final weeks of Trump's term, Gaetz sought something in return. He privately asked the White House for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, according to two people told of the discussions.
Around that time, Gaetz was also publicly calling for broad pardons from Trump to thwart what he termed the "bloodlust" of their political opponents. But Justice Department investigators had begun questioning 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 Gaetz or the White House knew at the time about the inquiry, or who else he sought pardons for. 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 Trump of the request, though it is unclear whether Gaetz discussed the matter directly with the president. 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.
In recent days, some Trump associates have speculated that Gaetz's request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure.
Few Republicans in Congress became more closely associated with Trump during his presidency than Gaetz. Though he had initially supported his fellow Floridian Jeb Bush in the 2016 Republican primary race, Gaetz latched his political fortunes to Trump during the campaign and found stardom in the Republican Party, becoming one of Trump's greatest defenders.
Since the existence of the investigation was publicly revealed last week, Trump and his close allies have mostly remained silent. Trump's advisers have urged him to stay quiet and sought to distance the former president from Gaetz.