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Matt Gaetz’s request for a pardon comes into sharper focus

We knew that Rep. Matt Gaetz sought a pardon from Donald Trump, but we didn't know why. The answer appears to be coming into sharper focus.

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At a public hearing a few months ago, the Jan. 6 committee, which had already raised the specter of members of Congress seeking presidential pardons from Donald Trump, started naming names. As regular readers might recall, the list included some high-profile far-right Republicans who made no effort to hide their close allegiance to Team Trump.

But Rep. Matt Gaetz’s name stood out for a reason.

There didn’t appear to be any real doubt about whether the controversial Florida congressman had, in fact, sought post-election presidential amnesty. Former White House official Cassidy Hutchinson testified that several of the GOP lawmakers who sought pardons participated in a Dec. 21, 2020, strategy discussion about how to overturn the election. “Mr. Gaetz was personally pushing for a pardon, and he was doing so since early December,” she told investigators.

What was less clear is why, exactly, the Floridian made the appeal. Most of the names released by the bipartisan committee likely sought pardons because of their role in trying to overturn an American presidential election, but Gaetz, even at the time, was at the center of an entirely unrelated criminal investigation. Which of his potential legal troubles led him to make the request?

The Washington Post shed new light on the matter with a report over the weekend.

Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told a former White House aide that he was seeking a preemptive pardon from President Donald Trump regarding an investigation in which he is a target, according to testimony given to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

According to the Post’s report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, it was Johnny McEntee who told investigators that Gaetz had assured him that he’d done nothing wrong, but the congressman thought it would be “great” if Trump could give him a pardon anyway. Gaetz, according to McEntee’s testimony, had already asked then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for a pardon. The Post’s report added:

Asked by investigators if Gaetz’s request for a pardon was in the context of the Justice Department investigation into whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, McEntee replied, “I think that was the context, yes,” according to people familiar with the testimony who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

It’s this detail that stands out. The fact that Gaetz sought a pardon before Trump left office is not altogether new, but his specific motivation is new.

For those who may need a refresher, it was in March 2021 when The New York Times first reported on the Justice Department’s investigation into the Florida congressman. According to the initial reporting, investigators were examining allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor, possibly violating federal sex trafficking laws in the process.

For his part, Gaetz has acknowledged the Justice Department investigation, which reportedly includes a grand jury, but he has also denied any wrongdoing.

As for the congressman’s electoral prospects, in theory, a politician facing an ongoing criminal investigation over sex trafficking allegations seemingly might have trouble getting re-elected. In practice, the latest FiveThirtyEight forecast suggests Gaetz has a better than 99% chance of winning another term in his North Florida district.