Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday refuted reports that Rep. Matt Gaetz asked his office for a blanket preemptive pardon in the final days of his administration.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
The statement was the first time the former president has weighed in on the political firestorm that has engulfed the Florida Republican. Mr. Gaetz is under a federal criminal investigation over accusations he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws.
Mr. Gaetz has vehemently denied wrongdoing and has not been criminally charged. He has claimed he’s the victim of an extortion plot.
Mr. Trump is the highest profile figure to stand up for the embattled lawmaker. Republicans have remained largely silent on the allegations, with few defending Mr. Gaetz.
The former president’s statement comes a day after The New York Times reported that the embattled Florida Republican sought preemptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies. The Times’ story cited two people familiar with the discussion.
It is not clear if Mr. Gaetz was aware of the Justice Department investigation when he asked for the pardon, the Times reported.
The Times also said the request was communicated to a Trump aide and it is not known if Mr. Gaetz ever spoke directly with the former president about a pardon.
Mr. Gaetz’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times.
In a statement to The New York Times, a Gaetz spokesman said the congressman had asked Mr. Trump to pardon “everyone from himself to Joe Exotic.” The spokesman accused the newspaper of “conflating” those pardon requests with the sex-trafficking allegations.
“Those comments have been on the record for some time and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself,” the spokesman told the paper.
Mr. Gaetz said in an interview last month with Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he’s not seeking a pardon.