Gaetz’s seeking of a preemptive pardon for crimes that may have been committed was first reported by The New York Times.
Trump was aware of Gaetz’s request, but the idea was quickly dismissed inside the White House, sources told ABC News.
The Department of Justice is investigating whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him, potentially violating sex trafficking laws.
A spokesperson for Gaetz, who has denied any wrongdoing, said the congressman’s request was conflated with a general push for pardons.
“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”
The investigation targeting Gaetz was launched last year when Trump was still president, sources familiar with the matter have told ABC News. It’s not clear whether the White House or Gaetz were aware of the ongoing investigation at the time. Then-Attorney General Bill Barr was briefed on the investigation’s progress several times, the sources said.
Trump said in a statement Wednesday that Gaetz never asked him for a pardon, though ABC News’ reporting indicates the request was made to people in the White House and just that Trump was aware — not asked directly.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said in the statement. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
The statement was also the former president’s first comments on the allegations against Gaetz.
“The request was so outlandish, apparently, that even President Trump turned it down,” Michael Waldman, president of the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, told ABC News.
“A blanket pardon would be extraordinary,” said Waldman. “A blanket pardon to a member of Congress under investigation would have been even more extraordinary. It is an open question whether a president can give a blanket pardon in advance, since it amounts to an invitation to go forth and break the law.”
Gaetz previously voiced his support for Trump’s presidential pardons, appearing on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show on Nov. 24 to declare that Trump should “pardon Michael Flynn, he should pardon the Thanksgiving turkey, he should pardon everyone from himself to his administration officials to Joe Exotic if he has to.”
“Because you see from the radical left a bloodlust that will only be quenched if they come after the people who worked so hard to animate the Trump administration with the policies and the vigor and the effectiveness that delivered for the American people,” Gaetz said. “So I think the president ought to wield that pardon power effectively and robustly.”
ABC News’ Mary Bruce reports for ABC Radio:
ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.