The New York Times is reporting that Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz asked President Donald Trump for a preemptive pardon at the end of his term. Gaetz is reportedly facing sex trafficking charges and the report would indicate that he was sufficiently concerned back at the end of 2020 to seek the extraordinary protection. Gaetz has not responded to the report.
Gaetz, 38, reportedly got nowhere with the Trump White House in seeking his own pardon. Given Trump’s highly controversial pardons, including many friends and political allies, the rejection would be notable but obviously would be the correct response.
Preemptive pardons are inherently controversial and relatively rare. There was much speculation of whether Trump would grant a prospective pardon to himself. In this case, such a pardon would be outrageous. If Gaetz engaged in sex trafficking (particularly with an underaged girl) there is no conceivable good-faith basis for a pardon. Gaetz has denied the allegations. He has yet to be charged so we do not know the full extent of evidence against him. For the Trump White House to be able to fully explore the merits of the allegations, it would have had to seek confidential information for the Justice Department — something former Attorney General Bill Barr would clearly have rejected.
Notably, if Gaetz wants to have any political future (which seems diminishing by the day), he needs to be vindicated in these charges, not excused from answering them. A pardon would have avoided the risk of conviction while cementing the perception of his guilt. Gaetz insists that there is evidence that will clearly vindicate him. If so, the path of vindication is not through the White House but the court system.
Fox News has noted that Gaetz suggested during an interview with Fox News in November that then-President Trump should “robustly” pardon “everyone” from Trump himself to administration officials. He said that it was the only way to defend against the “blood lust” among Democrats. If this report is true, he made this comment when he was himself making or about to make a secret request for a pardon. This controversy may deal with uncontrollable lust but not blood lust.
Moreover, his case is not an example of a Democratic “blood lust.” This is an investigation under Bill Barr, Trump’s Attorney General, who investigated both Republican and Democratic figures during his term in office.
If this request was made, it was incredibly inappropriate and unwarranted. It would show a willingness to seek political favors to avoid possible criminal charges. I have repeatedly said that Gaetz should not be judged in the media before we see concrete evidence. However, if true, this request would speaks loudly to the character and personal convictions of Matt Gaetz.